Does the hit teen drama really bear any resemblance to the average college student’s life, and is it still good?
Spoiler Warning: This article contains spoilers for all six series (up to the latest episode, of course, I don’t know what happens afterwards)
There are a lot of drugs in the world, undoubtedly, but if the six-year running E4 drama, Skins, is anything to go by then all of these intoxicants are ingested by unlucky, mostly middle-class, British College students. Hey! I’m one of those, they must have a backlog of happy pills hidden away for me somewhere. I joke of course, that’s not the life for me, too dangerous, though they certainly seem to get away with a lot in the show. In one episode ‘the gang’ obtain a plastic bag the size of an average baby filled with an obscene amount of weed and decide that they can’t leave until it’s all finished, now I’m no expert on the consuming of opitates but I’ve learned enough from TV and film that a tiny little bag is enough for multiple people. They finish the entire bag in one night, that should kill them! It’s not just marijuana they take either, all three generations frequently snort some sort of white substance up their nose which can’t be Daz . Marijuana may be no worse for you than alcohol but cocaine can be lethal. I don’t know what the college lives of Brian Elsley and Jamie Britain, the lead writers, were like but if they see that much drug-taking as a valid depiction of the average teen it might be best if their houses were raided. Then again I might be completely wrong, maybe everyone takes drugs and I’m just weird, living in the dull, hallucination-devoid real world.
Does Skins show us good role models for teenagers? No, of course it doesn’t, and anyone who ever thought otherwise should be in a car crash, hit by a bus and then have what remains of their head bashed in by a deranged psychiatrist. The show makes things like casual sex with random club-goers, cheating at poker against Asian crime lords, eating the first mushrooms you come across, beating random people half-to-death for fun and smuggling drugs through customs in your friend’s anus seem like perfectly fine things to do with few repercussions. It also makes ‘love’ seem far too important, with little attention paid to school-work (though somehow they mostly manage to do fine when they get their A-Level results); most of the characters are constantly trying to get off with one-another. There’s more to life than romance, I’d know. It’s no use saying that all teenagers realise that it’s just a TV show and take it with a pinch of salt; I don’t think that’s the case. Some gullible teenagers, particularly younger, pre-college ones, will take this as an accurate example of college life and aspire to be similar. There’s even a Facebook group called something along the lines of ‘I love those people who try to live their lives as if they were in Skins’ (though of course with more grammatical errors). It doesn’t help that when it first came out some critics were praising it for representing the real darker side of teenage life adults don’t consider. Often when bad things happen to Skins characters it’s through no fault of their own, the two teen pregnancies weren’t through a lack of care, they were just unlucky. It would be nice to see one of the more promiscuous ones get an STD for once, to prove to teenagers that there are some problems caused by naughtiness with strangers that can’t be fixed by a simple abortion.
Like I said before, I may be wrong about the realism aspect. It’s certainly not someone like me the show is trying to represent, I suppose if I wanted to see myself reflected on television I’d be better off looking at Will from The Inbetweeners than Alo from Skins. Nevertheless I do enjoy the show, most of the time. I believe I’m in a position to judge all series fairly because I didn’t grow up alongside it like many people, I watched Series 1-5 for the first time over the course of a few weeks last year.
Let’s settle an argument. The second generation (Series 3-4) was not s**t as so many Gen 1 elitists insist; it was simply ruined by one god-awful character, Effy Stonem. I never liked her in her parts in the first two series and when I saw her at the end lying in Tony’s iconic duvet smiling at the camera I made a scowl so deep that I crushed my eyes.
She was promiscuous, rude and badly behaved. Sure, that’s the case with many of the characters, most notably the violent, arrogant Cook, but where those characters had some degree of charm, realised they were wrong or at least got punished for their actions she had nothing. She never learnt anything from her stupidity (not when she had heroine forced into her veins or when a bad high made her knock someone unconscious with a rock) and she never needed to take responsibility for her actions, and then, despite all the ‘s**t she’s done’ (to use a popular phrase) she had the audacity to say that having her failed A-Levels bumped up to A grades was ‘wrong’! If you wanted to argue that Skins contains bad role models you’d need look no further than Generation 2’s leading lady. Skins likes it stories that revolve around characters somewhat losing their minds, some, like Tony, Cassie and JJ, are justified, others, like Effy, come completely out of the blue. In Effy’s Series 4 episode, without any prior warnings or hints, we find that she’s gone crazy and is now obsessed with death. What follows is one of the stupidest, most annoying moments in Skins history that the writer’s will never live down. Fans will know what I’m referring to. It turns out that Effy’s psychiatrist is a psychopath as well (presumably the fault of an admin error at the asylum) and develops an attraction to her. When Freddie (her boyfriend) goes to see him he slowly walks up the stairs carrying a baseball bat. Freddie does nothing, despite having the advantages of height, youth, and fitness. We then get an inelegant shot of the door as blood splatters against the glass in a clichéd manner. That scene is somehow from the same show that brought us the well-executed, very sad death of Sid’s dad.
I could perhaps forgive all of this if they didn’t insist on shoving her in our faces all the time and side-lining the other characters. The second generation had some really interesting themes (immigration, infertility and autism to name a few) but these were all shoved to the side by Effy and her dull love triangle and unrealistic plots. Everyone says that the show hasn’t been as good since the first generation and they’d be right, but I think people forget that it had good bits as well. Some of the best characters resided there, ones that broke the Skins mould (which was sadly fixed again in Series 5), there were characters like Thomas, the mostly well-behaved, nicest guy in the World, Katie Fitch, a Skins character who for once realised that having a partner at all times isn’t necessary, and of course, JJ.
JJ was the best character in Skins ever, period. He played the ukulele, he did magic, he was clever, he was full of charm and his stories weren’t overly-sensational, but the reason I really liked him was because he was averse to all the antics the others got into, he didn’t take drugs and he didn’t ‘party’. I suppose he was kind of like me, but with minor autism. He was brilliant, the show could have just been about him.
I have little to say about the third generation, it’s the worst, definitely, marred, like Gen 2, by bad characters, but still watchable and at times enjoyable. One good thing about it though is the way they make all the characters seem important, unlike the other series where some characters were mostly ignored (especially Anwar, played by Dev Patel, who, ironically, is now world famous), this means more time for the better characters and less for the bad characters. Also, it was a good idea to kill a main character (as the writers insist on doing) right near the beginning of a second year, instead of predictably in the penultimate episode, (even if it did result in Rich and Chris Addison both gaining the Sixth Sense, that was odd. If the doctors hadn’t stopped him he would have had sex with a coma patient thinking her to be alive and ‘horny’. Eurgh!).
So how long until the show just becomes too repetitive and sensational? Well, it’s probably heading there. I think what they need to do is try things that are different, rather than simply new. Bring us more characters like JJ that go against the established rules, not more people like Liv who just party, complain and strip at well-meaning memorials. Maybe it’s time for people like me who’ve seen previous series to move on and leave it to the younger generations.
One last complaint relating to the near-nudity of the teenage leads. Skins frequently contains the exposed mammary glands (to put it politely) of adults, but never of the leads, thank God. They’re under 18 anyway so it would be illegal. What they do do however, is frequently show them mostly nude, naked from behind or in lingerie, like the director is trying to tease the dirty old men and adolescent males watching the show. Surely that’s just as bad, if not worse, pretty much encouraging them to use their filthy imaginations?
Turns out the show won’t last much longer; according to the mostly trustworthy Wikipedia the show will end next year after a seventh series which brings back old characters. Looks like it’s following in the footsteps of The Inbetweeners and Gavin and Stacy and ending before it could become terrible. (Unlike those shows however Skins has already started to degrade) Good night, sweet Skince (see what I did there?).