Sunday, June 21, 2009

Skins: Series 1

The problem with being a television fanatic as well as a pop culture fiend is that you often run into spoilers regarding your favorite series. Without seeing even a single episode of the most recent season of Grey’s Anatomy, I already know some of the major story lines (Izzie’s brain cancer, her reunion with Alex, George’s departure/death, the big proposal). I knew that Alan Tudyk was the doll-gone-wrong Alpha before he even appeared on Dollhouse. Most recently I unfortunately learned that Nancy Botwin is pregnant without even seeing a single episode of season four (let alone season five). Needless to say, spoilers tend to, well, spoil things.

Because of this I decided to try out a series I knew barely anything about: Skins. Going into this series I only knew two things: 1/ Dev Patel was in it and 2/ it’s about sex. What I discovered was a refreshing series full of unexpected storylines and an intense cliffhanger.

It’s hard to review this series without giving away those dreadful spoilers but I shall do my best. Essentially, you take a tight-knit group of British teens, throw in some sexual tension, add a bit of serious life lessons and you get Skins. Notice only “some” sexual tension. As it turns out, while sex drives most of the plotlines, the series tends to focus more on the gradual formation of intense relationships rather than the lustful hanky panky.

The group of friends is made up almost entirely of your stereotypical teens. Sid Jenkins (the main character) is a slightly dorky, physically unappealing virgin. Sid’s best friend is the morally corrupt Tony who serves as the resident popular stud. The two friends find themselves in a somewhat love triangle with Tony’s girlfriend Michelle. As the typical “hot” lead, Michelle lacks a large amount of substance. There is barely anything appealing about her until half-way through the series. Essentially, Tony dates Michelle but Sid has a massive crush on her and Michelle is fully aware of said crush. The supporting casts consists of Maxxie (the out and proud homosexual), Chris (the typical fun guy), Anwar (Dev Patel’s Muslim character who manages to balance his religion with his horny teenage life), and Jal (the sage of sorts who essentially exists only to give her friends advice). If these were the only individuals offered by the series I probably would have stopped watching after a few episodes. Luckily, the heart and soul of this quirky British teen drama is Hannah Murray who plays the delightfully individualistic Cassie Ainsworth. Initially it seems Cassie’s only here to fill in the best friend role for Michelle. But this spacey blond with an eating disorder really carries the entire show. Cassie may have a drug problem early on, she may not eat anything ever, and she way look and act like a Mary-Kate Olsen knock-off, but gosh darn it the girl’s got some serious likability. Once you look past the annoying anorexia storyline you see Cassie for what she really is: a surprisingly mature teen who, like most, just wants to be loved. Cassie throws herself into the love triangle, without really intending, and this results in a horrendous amount of heartbreak. Luckily for us, Cassie isn’t an emotional, self-pitying teen so we get to see her subtly deal with her emotions.

The biggest flaw with Skins is the depiction of the kids’ parents. Don’t expect to find any Sandy Cohens in this group. Instead we have a bunch of self-obsessed parents who the audience is clearly supposed to blame for how their kids turned out. The parents themselves are typically too busy with their own lives to really care about their children. Cassie’s stay far away from her rehab center and would rather paint nude portraits of each other than drive her daughter to the doctors. Tony’s want to have some family time but easily give up because they don’t know how to talk to their children. Michelle’s mother is so involved with her new husband that she offers no sympathy for her own daughter’s heartache. I can live with some unrealistic storylines (and trust me this series has several) but I don’t buy the parents-are-to-blame-for-everything scenario. The only real villains in this series are the parents (unless you argue that the arrogant Tony is simultaneously everyone’s friend and enemy…which you could definitely argue). However, Skins saves its own ass by (finally) introducing a good parent in the season finale. To elaborate on that would be far too spoilerific so that’s all you get.

The best thing about Skins is the gradual progress of all the relationships and storylines. Occasionally the writers throw in random plots which came out of nowhere, but they clearly knew where they were heading with the entire first series. The real success of the series is that even though the writer’s knew where they were going, I was left kind of clueless. Maybe this is because I knew nothing about the series or maybe it’s because I wasn’t wholeheartedly invested until about half-way through, but it took me a few episodes to realize that it wasn’t Sid’s crush on Michelle that drives the plot. Instead, to keep the viewer’s watching, the writer’s rely on the superb acting skills of Hannah Murray to portray Cassie’s gradual infatuation with Sid. Sid and Cassie’s relationship is almost in complete opposition to the other strong relationship in the series: Maxxie and Anwar. Cassie and Sid meet during the premiere episode and slowly get closer as the series progresses. Maxxie and Anwar are best friends at the start of the series but gradually grow apart. Sid and Cassie can’t be together because Sid loves Michelle. Maxxie and Anwar can’t be friends because Maxxie loves men and this is against Anwar’s religion. The finale of series one is almost too good to be true. The two relationships are somewhat resolved and the individuals involved learn exactly what it means to love. There’s never a doubt that Cassie loves Sid or that Anwar and Maxxie love each other, but it becomes a question of whether or not that love is strong enough to bring them together. For a show seemingly about horny teens who only want sex, these four characters teach us that love is really the most powerful thing in this world…even more so than the libido.

This seems like a good point to address another accomplishment of this series. It’s not often on television that a platonic friendship between a gay male and a straight male is portrayed. Typically gay men have their female friends, their boyfriends, or the straight males who magically go gay for them. For a while I worried that the friendship between Anwar and Maxxie would turn into something more. I was concerned the tension between the two was a result of some sexual confusion on Anwar’s part. Luckily, the writers did something absolutely unheard of: they took sex completely out of the equation and portrayed a shockingly realistic (yet uncommon) friendship between two polar opposites. I applaud them for this.

There are so many wonderful moments in this series which need to be addressed in full (I didn’t even mention the student-teacher affair between Chris and Angie) but they also need to be experienced first hand to appreciate. Give Skins a chance and let it play out a bit before you make judgments. It isn’t until the episode “Michelle” that Skins really comes together. Somehow the episode which focuses on the least intriguing character managed to make me really commit to the show. That’s a sign of damned good television and I can’t wait to watch series two.

Some memorable quotes to end:

“I didn’t eat for three days so I could be lovely.”- Cassie

“It’s like a fucking episode of The OC in here.” -Chris

“Sex plus power equals fun”- Tony

“And I’m really really sorry for being a slut okay!” -Maxxie

“We have so much in common….depression….self-loathing.”- Cassie and Simon

“Of course I’m fucking ashamed of you.”-Angie

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