My take on "Skins"

Monday, January 24, 2011

What now feels to me like eons ago, I watched the first few episodes of a new British television show called Skins.  The show didn't strike a chord with me as much as it did with other viewers, and I moved on.  And sometime in 2009 or so, I heard MTV was attempting to bring the show over to the U.S., and I knew it would be bad.

In recent years, MTV has had a way of turning diamonds to coal.  Something has just felt ... off.  Its programming department seems to have a hard time walking away from a fading horse, instead allowing its oftentimes unwilling audience to watch the horse perish, and sometimes even fetter.  Not that it didn't strike gold more than a fair number of times, especially in the early-to-mid '90s.  But from 2005 onwards, there have been a number of disasters that should have been stopped long before they became disasters, including and not limited to: Total Request Live, Laguna Beach (here's looking at you, Season Three), The Hills (Season Six) ... and I still think Jersey Shore was a mistake in its entirety, though I am not really qualified to say, as I've never actually made it through an entire episode.

Cast of Skins UK

But more than just its bad track record, I felt Skins would be a disaster because it would be an attempt to translate a very British culture for an American audience.  As much as Skins is lauded for its truthful representation of adolescence, there is only so much "raw" reality Americans can take before they start writing angry letters to the Parents Television Council.  And it's not a lot.

We have Degrassi: The Next Generation, among other teen shows I'm sure I don't know about, which captures the essence of the (North) American teenager.  And even certain episodes or parts of episodes of Degrassi were censored for the American audience.  To even begin to think that something edgier could come along and capture the American youth without looking like a complete farce is laughable.

Because that is exactly what happened, at least in the first episode.  After reading too many articles that made me feel passionately for or against an "edgy" show for teenagers, I decided to check out the offending episode for myself.  Surely it couldn't be that bad, seeing as the only thing I could remember about Skins UK was Cassie rearranging her food.

It wasn't the worst thing I've seen on television, but it lay ambiguously somewhere between satirical and terrible, and that's not a good place to be.

Cast of Skins U.S.
It could've been okay.  If they hadn't 1) bleeped out the curse words and instead rewritten the dialogue to incorporate some other form of vulgarity, 2) allowed such terrible actors to portray the characters (the blonde playing the rich girl was godawful), 3) stuck so closely to the UK script, 4) depicted the parents as one-dimensional twits who probably wouldn't have been capable of raising smart alecky children as they had if they had been such twits, 5) let the actor who plays Tony play him in such a self-indulgent way, 6) totally miscast Cadie.

Afterwards, I had to watch the premiere episode of Skins UK, and everything was much more subtle.  Even the curse words, strangely enough.  And more real, without trying nearly as hard to be.  That MTV beeped out profanity and actually sexed up certain parts (Tony and Michelle dancing at the party) makes the U.S. version seem like a joke, or at best, a trashier version of its predecessor.

Quality aside, the issue of whether Skins U.S. is safe for kids/teens remains.  I've found myself to be completely divided on this issue, and even worse, passionately so.  On the one hand, it horrifies me to know that Miley Cyrus is trampling around in front of preteens wearing booty shorts and pole dancing, but on the other, it makes me pretty upset to think that adults seem to think their children are all brain dead enough to watch something like Skins and turn around and begin behaving in the same way.  Plus, the TV-MA rating is there for a reason. If it's really that terrible, I trust parents to install a chip (or whatever it is these days ... does that date me?) and block it. To call it "child pornography" and "the most dangerous children's show ever" is just sensationalizing the whole debate, from what I've seen so far.

I can't say for sure whether teens today are doing what these Skins teens do, and I can tell you that when I was a teen, I felt completely at peace being the way I was, mostly unaware of the drugs, alcohol and sex happening around me (if it was, in fact, happening around me at all ... which I'm willing to say only happened in isolated instances).  And when I was aware, I was happy not to partake in it.

But perhaps I wasn't the typical American teenager and my opinion is mostly invalid.  I just don't see why MTV seems to think we need another television show trying to be "gritty" and "real" and show the world what American teenagers are "really" like.  If American teenagers are really out doing these things, then why would they want to sit around and watch terrible actors playing their lives out on MTV?  Isn't the point of trashy television to get away from real life and indulge in 44 minutes of fantasy?  And didn't Skins UK have a short run on BBC America?  Why couldn't we just buy the rights to the UK version and censor the bits that really "can't" be shown on television?

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