It’s not often that an international Netflix Original gets to three seasons. So, logic would dictate that if two first-time creators, whose low-budget underdog comedy had become one of the platforms best-loved cult hits made it to a third season, they might stick with what was working for them in the first place.
Standing on reason however is not how upstart showrunners Jon Iver Helgaker and Jonas Torgersen got their show “Norsemen” commissioned by NRK in Norway, and eventually picked up for global distribution by Netflix. So, instead of moving on from Season 2’s major question marks, the two instead went back to the beginning and shot the entirety of Season 3 as a prequel.
Shortly after Season 3 launched, Netflix announced that the platform had backed the writer-director-producer duo once again, only this time they will be making the shift to animation with their new series “Captain Fall.”
Helgaker and Torgersen sat down to discuss the recently premiered “Norsemen” Season 3, the potential for a Season 4 and share early details of “Captain Fall.”
Apart from a couple of very local Norwegian TV productions, “Norsemen” is your first major credit. So how did two guys with so little experience end up making an international cult phenomenon?
Helgaker: We hadn’t really made anything other than what we’d done together for radio at our ad company we’ve had since 2007. We had worked on some TV shows helping with scripts, learning the ropes and how to set up a screenplay. But “Norsemen” is an idea we just started writing for fun. It was so easy and fun to write. We presented three episodes to NRK, and they were on board from the get-go. And when they asked who we would want to direct it I just said, “We are directing this.” When we left the meeting Jonas said “What the hell are you talking about? We’re not directors!” But we had a pretty clear vision and luckily it worked out.
Many international fans may not be aware, but you shoot the show in Norwegian, for local broadcaster NRK, and in English. When was that decision made?
Torgersen: We made the decision a month or so before we started shooting. Watching the show “Vikings” we heard the accents they were going for and saw this as a perfect opportunity because our actors speak English pretty much like that. The actors thought we would try for a couple of days and then give up, because it is obviously horrible for everyone and makes the job almost twice as hard. But we kept going, and it paid off in the end when Netflix picked it up.
Can you talk about the decision to do a prequel season rather than continue on from Season 2’s cliffhanger ending?
Helgaker: We started writing a Season 3 that followed Season 2, but we always drifted into flashbacks and we wanted to explain how some things got to be the way they are. But it was becoming a mess going back and forth to try and explain these things, so we decided to do an entire season set before.
So, is there a plan to do that season that would have followed Season 2?
Helgaker: We’re ready for another season. And looking at the social media buzz around “Norsemen,” we believe it deserves another season for sure.
Torgersen: We know it’s hard getting more than three seasons. But Season 2 ended with some loose ends and scores to settle and Season 3 expanded our universe. We would love to go on, and the actors would love to do it, so we hope it’s going to happen.
“Norsemen” really pushes the envelope on what is acceptable for comedy today. Do you ever censor yourselves to be more politically correct?
Torgersen: Maybe not to be politically correct, but there are scenes we have modified, and jokes that would be funny but were just too much. But only at the writing stage; we have never censored anything in the edit.
Helgaker: But we know it’s a fine line with comedy. We try to find angles that make gruesome Viking behavior, laws and traditions funny. Rape and pillage are two things we must address when making a Viking show. One of the very first jokes we make in the series is when Frøya comes back from pillaging and brags about all the raping she’d done. If that were a man, no one would find it the least bit funny and the whole scene would have been pretty controversial. But we have not received a single negative reaction to that scene.
Torgersen: But we were maybe a little gutsier in Season 1 when we didn’t know if anyone was going to watch it, even in Norway. It was a little surprising that Season 1 didn’t spark any controversy in Norway whatsoever, and even though we maybe push the envelope a little there has been very little negative feedback. We have no political agenda while we’re writing. At the end of the day, we just try to make something fun that makes us laugh.
Do you guys watch the show yourselves then?
Helgaker: It takes a long time because when we are in editing, we see it all 10,000 times unfinished, but it’s a big difference the first time I watch it as a viewer. It’s a totally new experience not worrying about the edit or music or FX, and I like it.
Torgersen: I watch it with my girlfriend when it airs. She looks away and is ashamed on my behalf pretty much every time there is a crude joke or scene. And as a result, I sit there and second guess our decisions, but she has eventually come to like it.
Onto “Captain Fall.” I know it’s early days, but can you talk a bit about what we can expect from your first animated series?
Torgersen: Well, we didn’t present it as an animated show at first. We went in with the idea of doing it live action and Netflix came back with the idea of doing it as animation. At first it was a bit difficult to wrap our heads around, but I think now we are thankful for doing it animated because it’s pretty much limitless.
Helgaker: We co-produce “Norsemen” as well, and when you are both producer and creative, in the back of your head it’s always: “that’s gonna be expensive,” “that’s gonna be problematic,” “we can’t do this, we can’t do that.” You limit yourself because you know the consequences. But in animation, and when you’re doing a big show like this is turning out to be, the creative freedom is like nothing else.
Can you share a bit about the plot? Details have been scarce so far.
Helgaker: We say it’s like if “The Love Boat,” “Ozark” and “Truman Show” had a cartoon baby. It takes place on a cruise ship and follows a gullible captain who thinks he’s landed the job of a lifetime but is actually just unaware of what is happening on the ship. He is the fall guy for everything that goes wrong.
And have you settled on an animation style?
Helgaker: We know it’s gonna be 2D. We love the old school “Tintin” and “Iron Giant” styles. One fun thing about having no experience in animation is just pitching ideas to the design team and watching them riff on it. It’s early, but we’re getting there.