• Henriette Steenstrup, creator and star of ‘Pørni’. (Viaplay)Source: Viaplay
Pernille Middelthon fumbles through the trials and turmoil of ordinary life with all the messy, relatable mistakes that humans make in six-part Norwegian comedy-drama, ‘Pørni’.
Cat Woods

2 Nov 2022 - 2:31 PM  UPDATED 2 Nov 2022 - 2:31 PM

As a single mother to two daughters and carer for her deceased sister’s son, Pernille – aka Pørni – barely has a moment to herself. Between her rebellious daughters and her elderly father, who is determined to behave like a teenager, her patience is stretched gossamer thin. 

Pørni is with her father in hospital when the series opens. His disastrous, deadly brain tumour they’d been dreading news about? A misdiagnosis, the doctor apologises. 

Sitting in Pørni’s car post-appointment, her father confesses that, though he loved her mother, he is gay. Perhaps relieved that her father has narrowly escaped a lethal diagnosis, Pørni laughs with delighted relief. It is the least of her dramas.

There’s Pørni’s habit of leaving voice messages on her deceased sister’s phone, her voice growing increasingly fraught with loneliness. Her love life is a game of awkward errors. Her ex-husband is a narcissistic, childish jerk. 

In spite of how intricately trauma and grief are traced through Pørni’s life and family, it is easy to surrender to the blend of humour and deeply relatable frustration at the humans fumbling around: family, friends, lovers, potential romantic interests, colleagues and strangers. 

We’re so accustomed to noir from Norway, and they do it so extraordinarily well, that it’s both surprising and refreshing to find that even without serial killers and major bank frauds, they can deliver compelling screen stories.

It’s gratifying to see a female-driven comedic series that isn’t all lightness and fluff, too, and this is largely owing to actress Henriette Steenstrup (previously seen in Lilyhammer), who not only plays the lead role but was also the series’ creator and writer. She told Variety that she evoked Pørni’s character and plot lines largely from her own life experience.

Now a 48-year-old mother to a teenage daughter and two sons, divorced from her first husband and married to her second husband for just over three years, Steenstrup draws from her own struggles and minor ecstasies as a wife, mother, daughter and woman in a world that demands constant progress, achievement and evolution.

“In child services, they say if a parent has a 30 per cent capacity to be a parent, that’s enough,” she explained to Drama Quarterly. “That’s comforting because I don’t feel I have more than 50 per cent sometimes. I have a family, I have an ex – I have a ‘modern family’ and I miss seeing families on TV that I can relate to.”

As she told Variety, “One day in a family is just as dramatic as a Shakespearean tragedy or a true crime, but the drama happens in the little things, as a family is so emotionally loaded.”

As a childcare worker for Child Welfare Services, Pørni’s job is a difficult and emotionally demanding one, and the real challenges of being torn between her duties as a mother and a daughter are not surfed over. As any of us might know, when we are being pulled in every direction at once and only barely keeping our sanity intact, the only way to keep our precarious balance is to indulge the humour in chaos.

Steenstrup is complemented by an excellent cast, not least Nils Ole Oftebro (Mammon), Gunnar Eiriksson (Twin), Johanna Mørck (Troll Hunter) and her teenage daughters Hanna (Vivild Falk Berg) and Sigrid (Ebba Jacobsen Öberg). As their harried mother, we witness a woman who willingly sacrifices her romantic life and her independence for the sake of being present. Women, whether they’re mothers or not, can identify with the inevitable sacrifices we make for the people, or the job, or the pets we love.

In Pørni, we have a new anti-hero for modern womanhood.

Pørni is now streaming at SBS On Demand.


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