You have your spy missions, superhero missions, military missions, and then you have the most difficult mission of them all: the mission we call everyday life, and that’s just what the star of ‘Pørni’ is tasked with. Instead of fighting evil or sniffing out microfilm, getting through the day-to-day becomes grueling, taking up her every moment and leaving her without so much as a moment’s peace to stop and smell the roses. All six episodes of season one are now available on Filmin, after being presented as part of the Serielizados festival.
So, who exactly is this Pørni? Well, she’s a 45-year-old Norwegian social worker, mother of two teenage girls slap bang in the throes of adolescence, in other words, majorly complicated, and whose father has recently decided to come out of the closet at the ripe age of whatever age it is. She’s also taken in her sister’s 15-year-old son after his mother died in a car accident and looks after her brother-in-law, who was left paralyzed. However, if you thought her plate was already pretty full, she’s divorced and has spent the past five years living an involuntary celibacy. But that’s all about to change… if only she can find the way to suspend time, and free-float for a bit, while keeping all the plates life has given her spinning.
As such, we find ourselves in the realm of overwhelmed mothers and mid-week heroines, played so well Pamela Adlon in the US show ‘Better Things’. The European version on the same subject however, everything is presented in a more realistic and grounded way. Situations are not extreme but appear trivial, at least on the surface, although very often hide deep and profound undercurrents. The dilemma of whether to take off your bra’ in front of a younger lover who has yet to fully grasped the punishment Newton’s law of gravity dishes out or why she continues leaving voice messages on her dead sister’s answering machine or trying your best to keep it together in front of society’s most vulnerable members, even when you’ve had a shite day and the only shoulder you can find to cry on is the hard shoulder.
But it would be entirely unfair to tag ‘Pørni’as depressing. Star and series creator, Henriette Steenstrup, has taken great care to paint a refreshing and varied fresco, with just as much light as there may be darkness. Although the characters’ triumphs may appear modest, they are victories nonetheless and despite being Norwegian, this show bears about as much resemblance to the glacial clichés of Nordic noir and all those unhealthy environments as a stick of chalk does to a lump of cheese. The color palette is much more vivid here and a few series fans may also discover that in Scandinavia… the sun also shines!
It’s not just an aesthetic contrast and the weather has nothing to do with it either. Where the crime shows impose a slow pace, thick silences and a commitment to the atmosphere rather than the hectic action, ‘Pørni’ provides the exact opposite and although you’d think a thirty minute-episode mightn’t pack much in, there are literally oodles of situations and scenarios covered. The dialogues are the main thread of the series and often overlap, but there’s no doubt that this fast-paced delivery has been hand-picked to transmit the ongoing and ever-present tension in which the protagonist lives. To top it all off, the constant interruption from mobile device notifications proves a biting portrait of just how disruptive these devices can be, especially in affairs of the heart, be they via a WhatsApp’s message in the lovers’ dance or via a dating app.
Without a doubt, the series’ principal virtue is the honesty Steenstrup manages to convey, not even bothering to feign greater charisma than natural and you’ll find it hard to detect even the slightest sign of an imposter here. To boot, she shuns any romanticization of the midlife crisis, a feature some critics found in Ricky Gervais’ overly-sweetened ‘After Life’. In this sense, ‘Pørni’ exudes a warmth and proximity that comes with Steenstrup’s hallmark and the blending together of creator and protagonist. Although very different titles in many aspects, there is however a certain sorority that twins this series with shows like ‘Fleabag’, by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, ‘I May Destroy You’ by Michaela Coel and Lena Dunham’s ‘Girls’. Even if they are all carved from drama, the autobiographical parallels are inevitable and will have you empathizing with the part of truth that is in each.
‘Pørni’ may not be classified as spectacular and was made on a modest budget that bodes well for close up shots and long, single-room scenes and perhaps is a path for certain European dramas , emphasizing intangibles such as charisma, sensitivity, or screenwriting magic. And, although she might not have suitors banging her door down, ‘Pørni’ certainly ticks all the boxes for those in search of a good friend.