So the fifth season and third cohort of E4’s notorious sex&drug fuelled teen comedy/drama show Skins started last night. So far after one episode none of the new cast had engaged in brazen sexual activity with each other, but we did get to see plenty of girls in just their underwear (as part of a pseudo-Carrie-homage changing room scene, no less – do sixth formers have to do PE these days?) and a gratuitous shot of a naked male bottom in a swimming pool. And, bizarrely, the little girl from The Golden Compass dressed as an androgynous goth animation-wannabe and pushing a replica handgun into a postbox.
But this is Skins, and strangeness is to be expected. Like English Literature teachers revealing tattoos of Charlotte Bronte on their chest and talking about “post-post-modern identity”. Or Chris Addison as a PE teacher. (And was that John Sessions with a mustache playing one of Frankie’s two dads?)
But the strange caricature cast of adults who surround the primary teen cohort of the show aren’t the main appeal for me, a 30-something man. Nor is the titillation/shock factor of seeing a load of teens get drunk, take drugs, and have sex (all of which are portrayed with much more frequency, drama, and excitement than my own rather staid and dull teenage years, which were much more like those represented by The Inbetweeners, E4’s other great teen show). I’m not even drawn in by the music, by either an impulse to keep up with what’s hip to the kids now or else to reassure my self that I’m still hip myself by seeing how many artists I recognize (last night = 1: British Sea Power).
No, the main pull of Skins is the emotional resonance it sometimes hits. Towards the end of the second cohort’s tenure these moments were becoming fewer and further between, as the production crew mistakely stuck with the Freddie/Effie storyline when both characters paled next to JJ, Cook, Emily, and Naomi. I still maintain, in particular, that the JJ episode in season 3 was one of the most glorious 60-minutes of television I’ve ever seen, a triumph of compassion and sensitivity. The on-again/off-again relationship between Emily and Naomi also produced a number of episodes that had both me and my wife hit hard with emotion. It’s these moments that make it worth trudging through some of the less effective episodes and storylines; when they hit a peak, Skins can become transcendental television. I really mean that.
One thing that disappoints with both the second and third cohort is the move away from untried Bristolian natives as actors; the authentic accents and incredibly natural delivery of the first cohort adding a layer of realism amongst the otherwise surreal adult characters, hyper-bright fashions, and stylized sex&drugs sequences. But, as I said, though the second cohort may not have been locals for the most part they still produced some awesome television. (And some banal rubbish; the final two episodes descended hard and fast.) I’m not bowled over by the new cast from one episode, but who could be? I’m looking forward to getting to know them.
So, Skins is back. I’m glad.