It seems like all teenagers do these days is drink excessively, have copious amounts of coitus and overdose on nondescript narcotics. At least that’s what British teens are doing, according to the U.K. hit series “Skins.” Overseas audiences just love those deranged little narcissists, but when MTV premiered an American version, people freaked out.
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The American pilot is surprisingly similar to its British counterpart. Tony (newcomer James Newman) vows to help his best friend Stan (newcomer Daniel Flaherty) lose his virginity. They buy weed, they crash a rich girl’s party, someone ODs, they steal a car and then drive it into a lake. You know — regular, wholesome kid stuff. Clearly, this consequence-free shenanigans will be the U.S. version’s bread and butter.
When looking at the premise, the show doesn’t seem too different from “Degrassi,” but after only one episode, companies like Taco Bell, GM and The Wrigley Company have pulled their advertising, claiming “Skins” isn’t fit for their brands. Furthermore, MTV executives are worried about potential child pornography lawsuits that may ensue after the third episode, in which Tony runs bare-assed down a suburban street. Newman, at 17, is underage, along with the rest of the cast.
Aside from the controversy, though, the show isn’t too terrible. The cast is almost entirely made up of non-actors, but for the most part, the kids deliver. They’re certainly not seasoned professionals, and some of the actors do simply suck, but within the cast there are some fresh-faced new stars emerging. Newman plays Tony with a sinister coolness reminiscent of Ryan Philipe from “Cruel Intentions,” Flaherty’s Stan is adorable and Michael Cera-esque and it’s not unfathomable to imagine Rachel Thevenard (who plays Tony’s girlfriend and Stan’s crush, Michelle) becoming the next Blake Lively.
However, the dialogue often gets in the way of the acting. The BBC has looser obscenity policies than the FCC, so the kids in the British version were able to drop a “fuck” whenever they wanted. The American kids get bleeped out every now and then, but mostly the writers were forced to come up with cutesy euphemisms for sex like, “tonight, we present Mr. Happy with the keys to the furry city” and “I’m gonna park my Chevy in Michelle’s garage.” Nobody talks like that — nobody.
The show has an aesthetic unlike anything else on MTV. Shot in Toronto, the tree-lined streets of picturesque neighborhoods and cookie-cutter suburban start-ups contrast harshly with the carpe diem lifestyle of these teenagers. We’re used to the beaches on Jersey’s shore and L.A.’s palm trees and skyscrapers. Canadian suburbia might be a teenager’s prison, but it’s a nice change of pace. Similarly, gone are the shaky cameras and crappy sound of MTV’s reality programming as it evolves with a scripted show.
The U.K.’s “Skins” launched the music careers of many up-and-coming bands and artists. Consequently, the U.S. version prides itself on a soundtrack made up of songs by obscure, underground artists, many of which were viewer-submitted. Should “Skins” make its way past the controversy, it has the potential to launch the indie into the mainstream in the same way “The O.C.” once did.
The biggest problem with the drugs and sex on “Skins” is not that they’re shocking, offensive and immoral, but that they’re just plain false. Yes, teenagers often make bad decisions, but despite what MTV tells you, most of them do understand their actions have consequences and they do care about things other than themselves. But, that just wouldn’t make good television.