Skins

A reader who read my comments about BBC America's shows Robin Hood and Primeval wonders if I have anything positive to say about anything on the network. I'm happy to say that there are several series I enjoy including Skins, Dr. Who, and some old favorites like Monty Python and Absolutely Fabulous.

Some of the commercials for Skins on BBC America say something like think Gossip Girls with a huge dollop of Brit smarts. That's kind of a strange ad campaign for a series that appeals to teenage boys as much as it does girls. One of the actors also calls it Dawson's Creek on speed. While I'm not sure that comparison works for me either it's entirely possible that the writers took Pacey Witter's advice to heart and then had the Skins characters would do exactly the opposite. I'm referring to this advice specifically, "Avoid public nudity, stay off drugs, try not to murder anybody, the obvious stuff. And one last thing; don't sleep with any of your teachers. Believe me; it never works out as well as you think." So far they haven't murdered anyone but they've gotten bull's-eyes on the rest.

Skins is about a group of posh kids who live in the UK and are closely knit friends. Like all teenagers they've got their share of problems, some through their own making and many through external forces that are completely out of their control. Starring an ensemble cast, Skins has an interesting format. Each episode focuses on one member of the circle of friends and how that member's action or travails are affecting everyone else. The episode bears the character's name and there is one for each season, or series as they call it in the UK.

Tony is the ringleader of the group. Bright, handsome, talented and a bit of a sociopath he is frequently bored and uses his gifts to manipulate his friends, often causing them a great deal of pain, which he enjoys as it makes things "interesting." As season one starts Tony has never really had to suffer the consequences of his actions so he is completely unprepared when reality sets in and he takes some very hard knocks.

Michelle is dating Tony at the beginning of season one and is quite insecure. Her mother is flighty and their unstable home life contributes to Michelle's lack of self worth, which is something Tony preys upon.

Sid, Tony's best friend, is an awkward young man who hides behind his hat and his glasses. In love with Michelle, he is terrified of anyone finding out about his feelings. With a bullying father and a meek mother he is also seeking relief from his home life and is a perfect target for Tony, who manipulates him by treating him the same way his father does; as though Sid is a complete mess and incapable of getting anything right.

Cassie is an ethereal girl who has loads of problems. As season one begins she is in and out of a clinic for an eating disorder. She has such trouble coping that her suicide attempts are almost a joke among certain of her friends and she self medicates with any pill she can get her hands on.

Jal is an accomplished clarinet player with a father in the music business and brothers who are obsessed with hip-hop. She prides herself on her levelheadedness and is the group's counselor with all of them coming to her for help with her problems. While she badly wants to succeed in school and as a musician, she's a little tired of her own goody two shoes image but is afraid of the consequences of acting more like her friends, who are invariably in some of trouble, often quite serious.

Anwar and Maxie are best mates but as are beginning to have troubles with their relationship as Anwar's religion is strongly anti-homosexual and Maxie is out of the closet and comfortable with his sexuality. Anwar becomes more and confused as he tries to reconcile his friendship with what he believes his religion demands of him. Meanwhile Maxie is distraught as he is losing his friend and sees hypocritical behavior on the part of Anwar, who does plenty of things his religion forbids, like drinking and taking illegal drugs.

I wasn't sure if I was going to like this show when it debuted. The commercials were interesting but I was afraid it was going to be like that awful Brett Easton Ellis novel about the posh Hollywood kids who are oh so bored with their existence and go around doing horrible things because their privileged lifestyles are just too tedious for them to bear.

Skins works because the characters are likeable and endearing, making the audience root for them even, or perhaps especially, when they're making dreadful mistakes that will strongly impact their futures. By giving these teens real problems (one character has a dead sibling and is abandoned by his mother, another has to deal with a succession of stepfathers that last about as long as yesterday's newspaper) the writers allow us to feel a connection to the characters and encourages us to worry and rejoice along with them.

The ensemble cast is fantastic with spot on performances from the teens, who have stated that most of them had no experience when they were cast. With well known seasoned actors playing the roles of parents and teachers the young actors have had the opportunity to learn on the job from some of Britain's best and their chemistry allows them to play off each other, making each performance stronger.

Writing this show requires a deft touch to avoid falling into cliché, complacency or portraying the characters in a condescending or exploitative manner. Since the show has a fair amount of sex, nudity, drinking and pill popping it would be easy for the series to sustain an audience without ever offering anything of real substance but the writers walk the tightrope carefully, showing us tragedy, delight, heroism and inspiration intermingled with the tawdry.

One-Paragraph Review
This week's one-paragraph review is from Mac who saw the Toby's Dinner Theater version of Phantom of the Opera and says, "It's crap when compared to the Andrew Lloyd Weber version. Toby's made a good try but it just didn’t work." Do you have a one-paragraph (or smaller) review you'd like to share? Send it in to me for consideration. You can reach me at feedback@qualitytimeweekly.com.