Friday, August 28, 2009

What You Should Be Watching: Skins

If you're not already watching "Skins" then you are truly missing out on one of the best shows on television right now.  The import from Britain, which can be seen on BBC America,  focuses on the lives of a group of teenagers as they attend the fictional Roundview College (the British use the term "college" for high school ) in the city of Bristol.  

It's been described as the "British Gossip Girl," but that description doesn't do it justice as it pushes more boundaries than "Gossip Girl."  Imagine if everybody on "Gossip Girl" had the morals of Chuck Bass (who's incidentally played by the British Ed Westwick) and you have "Skins."  The character-driven show features episodes that are named after the characters the particular episode is about and if it's about the whole group then it's called "Everyone."

I know some of you have already dismissed this as another generic teen drama, but you would be wrong.  Unlike standard teen dramas such as "The O.C." or "Beverly Hills 90210," "Skins" does not sugarcoat the teenage experience with morals or happy endings.  Instead it deftly mixes comedy and drama to create an entertaining and accurate depiction of the teenage experience as it accepts the role that high school's holy trinity of sex, drugs, and alcohol play in the characters' everyday life without vilifying it.   In reality, isn't that what high school is all about?  People's pursuit of all three of these vices or at least one of them.

The Canadian show "Degrassi" also claims to "go there," but only uses issues such as sex, drugs, and alcohol to scare kids into not imitating the poor choices the characters have allegedly made.  The show indicates that engaging in any of these three things will always result in the worst possible consequence. According to this logic, your dog probably died because of that one time you smoked weed and a chain reaction from your binge drinking caused the old man down the street to die.  Although, keep in mind that Canada has never been in a real war so sex, drugs, and alcohol represent their most dangerous enemies to date.

Of course,  there's a good reason "Skins" is more authentic then any American show: it uses actual teenagers. The show created a young writers group consisting of real teenagers that it brainstorms story ideas with and allows to write episodes.  Therefore, the characters don't sound like they are reading out of a thesaurus while spouting soliloquies about their teenage struggles like the characters on "Dawson's Creek" did.  Sorry Joey Potter but nobody in high school ever told me I was being persnickety, they just said I was being an asshole. In addition, "Skins" holds open casting calls to select regular 16-19 year olds for the show, and when these actors become too old they replace them with a new cast through the same process.  The plan is to replace the cast every two seasons.

I started watching the show last winter when I heard that Dev Petal from "Slumdog Millionaire" played the role of Anwar on it.  In fact, Petal got the part in "Slumdog" because director Danny Boyle's daughter watched the show, and Boyle saw him on it.  The first two seasons displayed a cast led by Tony (an intelligent, popular, womanizer), his best friend Sid (a socially awkward, virgin),   Michelle (Tony's on again/off again girlfriend),  Chris (the group's pill head and party animal) as well as Anwar  (a Muslim who's always trying to get laid),  Anwar's gay best friend Maxxie,  Cassie ( an out-there girl who suffers from an eating disorder), and Jal ( an intelligent, talented musician who's the most levelheaded person in the group).

Before the third season, the whole cast was replaced except for Tony's younger sister Effy who played a small part in those first couple of seasons.  She didn't even speak for most of the first season.  The third season is currently airing here on Thursdays at 9 pm on BBC America (it already finished its run in Britain this spring and production has begun on the fourth season ), and hasn't missed a beat with the new cast led by Effy. She's essentially the female version of Tony as she's the queen bee who enjoys using her good looks to manipulate people.   Check out the season 3 trailer.  Keep in mind some of the stuff in it might be NSFW so watch it at home if you can.

Recently, it was announced that there will be an American version of "Skins," which will take place in Baltimore.  MTV has acquired the broadcast rights for the show.  Fortunately, many of the same creative forces behind the original will be involved with the American version, but don't miss out on seeing the British version now.  Besides, you won't get to hear people being called "twats" in the American version.

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