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From Across the Pond: BBC America's "Skins"

I was a little skeptical going into Skins. After all, it's a teen-centric series featuring real teens who actually look like they're the age group they're playing (spots and all) and, let's be honest, I don't really fit into their target demographic anymore.

How wrong I was. Skins, which launches on Sunday on BBC America (after a breakout run on UK network Channel 4), was absolutely gripping, funny, and emotionally resonant, not to mention filled to the rafters with quirky and complex characters, all of whom seem shockingly real.

I only meant to watch the first of the three episodes submitted by the network for review but found myself shaking with anticipation and ended up watching all three installments in one go. I'm extremely glad that I stuck around after the slightly shaking beginning which seemed to focus a little too much on popular Tony (About a Boy's Nicholas Hoult), whom I found to be a far less interesting character than the rest of his peers. Tony is the sort of bloke that typically appears on television: good-looking, lucky with the ladies, but absolutely shallow; I found myself a little bored by the predictability of his scenes (save for the fantastic opening sequence in which he manages to cover for his little sister Effy AND enrage his father to boot). But fret not, Tony is just one of a group of outspoken teens who like to party, have sex, and rebel against... whatever it is that youth today are rebelling against.

Far more interesting of a character is Tony's best mate Sid (Mike Bailey), a sad sack geek desperate to lose his virginity before he turns seventeen. He's also hopelessly in love with Tony's girlfriend Michelle (April Pearson), whom Tony insists on calling "Nips." Pearson, who looks like a brunette Amber Heard, is radiant as the sexually confident Michelle, whose bravura covers up some bigger insecurities (in episode 3, she tells her best friend Jal that her main talent in life is "looking shaggable"). Their bizarre love triangle fuels the first episode (to the point where it's not entirely clear whom Sid loves more: Michelle or his hero Tony) but soon veers off into another direction with the inclusion of a fourth player into the mix.

Skins
' focus shifts back and forth between characters, giving us the ability to look into each of the lives with a clarity and scrunity not seen in most teen-oriented series. While a background player in the first two episodes, Jal (Larissa Wilson) becomes the focus of the series' third episode and expands our awareness of her character by giving her a piercing musical ability and the (figurative) ghost of a dead mother looming over her. Chris (Joe Dempsey) is a joker incarnate who is carrying a torch for his psychology teacher Angie, while Anwar (Dev Patel) is caught between his Muslim faith and his interest in far more physical pleasures and Maxxie (Mitch Hewer) is an out gay teen who seems perhaps the most confident of the bunch.

But I'm already completely entranced with Cassie (Hannah Murray), a self-destructive anorexic with a penchant for hallucinations, pills, and a vacant outlook that makes Amanda Seyfriend in Mean Girls look positively with it. Murray's performance seems so effortless as she makes Cassie both so tragic and hopeful that it absolutely breaks your heart watching her starve herself; her storyline--the focus of Episode Two--is terrifyingly real as she deals with her self-absorbed parents and attempts to finish up her clinic treatment for anorexia... even as she slips deeper into the disease. To say that this is handled with grace and skill--particularly by a writing staff whose members are themselves barely out of their teens--is an understatement of the highest order. I wouldn't be surprised if Murray ends up landing a role on a US series based on the strength of her turn as Cassie; she is absolutely intoxicating and it is impossible to tear your eyes off her, even as she so desperately looks for someone--anyone--to love her.

Just as the characters are sharply drawn, so too is the plot deftly constructed of overlapping storylines involving the kids and their teachers. Storylines meander from one episode into the next, crossing over from one kid to another and back again with a facile quality that is astounding. And Skins has the amazing ability to end each episode, not with the resolution of a story beat, but with the beat itself, leaving the viewer literally on a bit of a cliffhanger each week. Likewise, episodes begin in the midst of a storyline (like the aftermath of Episode Two's food fight at Michelle's house) and just pick up as though the viewer has been along for the ride all along. The result is the closest approximation to the chaos of teen life that I've ever seen on the small screen: messy, silly, scary, and tricky.

But isn't that life, regardless of what our age might be?

Skins premieres Sunday at 9 pm ET/PT with two back-to-back episodes on BBC America. But let's take a look at the short-form promo for the series:

Comments

Unknown said…
Wow, this sounds fabulous. Kind of makes me think of the first season of Veronica Mars.
Anonymous said…
I don't usually watch BBC America but this sounds so great that I might have to. How many eps are there?
Anonymous said…
Anika, Season 1 = 9 eps; Season 2 = 10 eps. 3rd Season will air in the UK in early 2009.
Anonymous said…
I managed to see both of the first two seasons of this brilliant show. You will love it if the first three episodes got you hooked. Can't wait for the third season with its new cast!!!!
Anonymous said…
I also didn't expect much from this show but, by the end of the second episode, found myself absolutely in love with it. There is a wonderful blend of humor and sadness and the characters are fantastic. I can't wait to see more!
Anonymous said…
I can finally read this review, now that I've caught up. they didn't re-air the first ep, but it sounds like I didn't miss too much. It's funny, I was trying to guess whose story I'd missed, and I assumed it was Michelle.

Like you, I am completely captivated by Cassie, and in the 2 eps past hers (Jal and Chris), I was clinging to the little bit of Cassie we are getting. Her delivery of "totally" speaks volumes.

I am pretty hooked already.
hollarback said…
The Jal and Cassie episodes hooked me as well - I didn't care for Tony much as a character.

Reminded me a bit of "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" which I always thought showed the actuality of being a teen in a realistic way.

Most US shows these days are written by people rying to sell clothing - I like the Skins concept - they paired very young untested writers with older veteran writers to get the show to the level its at. And it works.
Anonymous said…
Im from the UK and skins is so similar to life in Britain ( with binge drinking and drug use) that you feel as is you are part of the storyline. series three was upsetting as i missed the old cast so much that i couldnt connect properly with the characters in the third season. The characters and sotrylines are also completely different to the ones i have seen on gossip girl and 90210. With Cassie for instance, instead of trying to imediately solve the problem of Cassies anorexia, it's explored, leaving the viewer with much more sympathy.
I actually cant imagine skins with the censors on it. I imagine it would just take away the amount of outrageous behaivour which makes it so hilarious
xo

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