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Skins: sex, drugs and indie music

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I was really prepared to hate Skins.

If you’ve never heard of it, Skins is a British show chronicling the adventures and mishaps of a group of teenagers – basically, it’s a high school drama. The trailers on Channel 4 made it look like Myspace: The Movie, and it’s true that there are some of the hallmarks of Every Indie Teen Drama Ever, such as:

*The obligatory ‘crazy girl’ with lots of eyeliner, attractively disordered hair, waiflike attitude and/or look, and some sort of mental instability that nevertheless fails to keep men away.
*Teenagers doing things which are meant to be Life-Affirming in order to Seize the Moment, such as skinny-dipping, jumping into pools with all their clothes on, or trampolining outside a house party.

Skins also has loads of gropey teenage sex, recreational drug use (pills, pot, and for some reason EVERYONE seems to smoke), clever backtalk to parents and authority figures, and mood-setting indie music. And raves.

If you already hate Skins based on this description, I don’t blame you. I mean, everything I mentioned would normally into the category of TV Things That Are Really, Really Annoying.

However, Skins pushes past the restrictions of its genre and manages not only to succeed, but to draw you in as well.

Skins is written through the filter of how you feel when you’re a teenager, rather than being an objective portrayal of what teenagers are like. For starters, Skins has just a touch of irony about it – not enough to stop you from caring about the characters, but enough to make you realise that sometimes the characters take themselves and their problems a little too seriously. It’s a bit like Grease in that respect, where the characters do things that they think are cool or life-changing or what have you, but the audience is meant to see these actions and motivations in the context of adolescence, when everything seems incredibly, excessively significant. Same goes for Skins’ authority figure characters (teachers, parents, etc), who are usually portrayed as detached, neglectful, out of touch, or trying too hard to be cool. That isn’t what all teachers and parents are really like, but that is how a lot of teenagers view them.

Skins also manages to take a fairly cliched character – the cool, charming leader of the pack – and turn him into someone interesting we can all hate. Tony Stonem has all the girls he could want, a painfully loyal best friend, and a loving (and hot) girlfriend; oh, and he’s a good singer, too. Instead of turning him into the protagonist, the show gradually reveals him to be a superficial, manipulative bastard who’s completely aware of his power over others and who revels in abusing it. When he gets his comeuppance (the nature of which I won’t spoil for you), it’s satisfying rather than sad.

The teenagers in Skins largely live in their own world. There’s no worrying about who’s popular or unpopular, who’s been asked to this or that party, or anything along those lines. Maybe this is more of a personal thing, as popularity was never a huge concern for me or my friends, but I suspect that a lot of people can identify with that.

Most importantly, despite all the wild sex and continuous pill-popping and music by Someone You’ve Never Heard Of, Skins is a reflection of how foolish and oblivious teenagers can be: the many, many bad relationship decisions, publicly making out with your boyfriend like it’s your last day on earth, lashing out at troubled or struggling parents just for fun or just to prove a point, and so on.

Added bonuses come in the form of watching comedic actors play troubled, depressed, or otherwise down-on-their-luck parents; you get to see Bill Bailey AND Josie Lawrence say ‘fuck’ on television. You also get to see Peter Capaldi being well Scottish and touchingly vulnerable, which is actually what got me watching Skins in the first place.

In summary, if you want an emotionally accurate representation of adolescence, watch Skins. I’m 6 episodes into the second series, and can’t wait to see more.

P.S. I couldn’t finish Torchwood: Children of Earth. All of the actors were great except for John Barrowman, which was kind of problematic as he plays the main character and I had trouble watching any scene with him in it. In fact, he bothered me so much that I couldn’t even enjoy the scenes without him, because I knew he’d be coming back.


Written by Kelly Kanayama

February 3, 2010 at 10:04 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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