“We were eager to see the reaction from the other Nordic broadcasters who invested in ZombieLars through Nordvision, and to find out how our neighbouring countries would receive the show. When we heard nothing for a long time, we got a bit worried,” says Gisle Halvorsen, one of the two creators behind ZombieLars, an original children’s drama series from NRK.
As it turned out, there was no need for concern.
Soon enough, Denmark reported that the series was doing really well with their viewers, and that DR was hoping for more of the same. Yle was also very enthusiastic, and eventually SVT joined the chorus of praise.
“We believed we had made a series that ought to appeal beyond Norway, and it was great to have this confirmed in the Nordic region,” he explains.
“The ZombieLars series deals with themes such as friendship and feeling excluded, but it is also about daring to be different and finding out who you are. And how many of us are actually ’normal’ anyway? That is probably why the show is so popular with children – a lot of them recognise themselves in the characters,” says Mikaela Sonck, head of children’s content at Swedish Yle.
“ZombieLars has taken this genre to another level, both in terms of filmic quality and narrative format. It’s absolutely fantastic that we are able to deliver such high standards here in the Nordic region, in spite of the high quality in international content at the moment,” says Safa Safiyari from SVT.
A classic tale
ZombieLars focuses on 12-year-old Lars in a classic tale of ’a stranger coming to town’. Because Lars is half zombie, he cannot die. His character is a figure of depression. Like Lars, his new friends are rather unusual: Anna, who is a quarter Ninja, turns invisible when she gets scared. She represents shyness, while Tess is a quarter witch and a symbol of self-loathing.
We also meet elves, who epitomize inadequacy. The trolls signify self-hatred. And so it goes on.
In the parallel universe of this show, every fantasy character we encounter is rooted in a human characteristic.
ZombieLars came about in order to provide entertainment. One of the shows’ creators, Thomas Seeberg Torjussen, noticed how his two sons, aged 12 and 9, would leave TV shows and films behind in favour of the video game Fortnite. He wanted to bring them back.
The result? A show where both content and format shows respect for its target audience, acknowledging that today’s kids are smart kids.
A show with stunning effects they will otherwise only get to see in American films; a morbid sense of humour that clearly respects their sophisticated taste; and stories related to the world we live in.
– is a fantasy tale set in the fictitious town of Bekkebakken.
– is produced by Tordenfilm, a Norwegian production company, in close collaboration with NRK Super
– has involved external as well as in-house stage
– has now completed Season 3, which premiered in Norway on 19 January 2019
– won twice at the 2018 Prix Jeunesse in Munich
– the jury award as well as the audience award
– has been and is currently nominated for awards in Asia, the USA and South America
We must believe in the characters
“Every time we sat at the writing table, we kept thinking that if we don’t think it’s funny, we can’t expect the viewers to laugh. If we don’t believe in the characters, no one else will believe in them. And if we don’t feel that the stories are true or important to us, we can’t expect the children to join us on this journey,” says Gisle Halvorsen.
“ZombieLars has been made at a time when ’dark attitudes’ are once more prevalent around the world. We wake up to news of Brexit and Trump, witnessing a polarisation in society that can be depressing in itself. These are important themes to us, and we spend a lot of time reflecting on and discussing things like that. And that’s why ZombieLars deals with these issues. We say exactly what we think – about the world and how it ought to be, but we do so with humour, heart and ’smartness’. Or at least we try to.”
ZombieLars in Norway
The first five minutes of the opening episode are the most important ones in the entire series. The main character, Lars, throws himself from a fifth-floor window, because he can’t be bothered using the stairs. His mum then tells him off while she cracks his head back in place.
“This is tough stuff, and obviously we were aware of that. But at exactly that point, ZombieLars tells the children what kind of show it is – what we dare to do, and how tough we are. And if we’re serious about capturing 12-year-olds of today, we can’t afford to chicken out,” says Gisle Halvorsen.
Although NRK are a brave bunch, a lot of people were on the edge of their seats before the premiere. NRK produced a document with a Q&A for their audience, explaining what ZombieLars is. This was distributed to all audience-facing staff in NRK in case they received any reactions.
The editors also spoke to the media beforehand.
“But we had virtually no negative responses in the end. Perhaps this is because the adult viewers don’t really pick up on what their children are watching, but we hope – and believe – that isn’t the case,” says Gisle Halvorsen.
“On the contrary, our figures show that we have had a great number of adult viewers, and we also get feedback saying that lots of people watch ZombieLars with their children. This is very positive at a time when there’s a huge shift away from families watching TV together.”