With the finales of both Skins UK and Skins US rapidly heading our way, I felt that it would be a perfect opportunity to analyze the differences, good and bad, between the series in a proper manner since MTV’s version of the British hit has had time to grow since it’s premiere episode. The original UK series is in it’s fifth season, which also signifies a brand new cast as well, so the Skins brand is at a point of new beginnings on both fronts and is under a serious storm of scrutiny in both favorable and unfavorable lights. So let’s take a look at both series by breaking down our analysis in the subjects of Characters, Style, Controversy, and Social Relevance.
To be fair, the US cast of Skins are, in a way, mimicking the original cast, or the First Generation as Skins fans call them. When I say “in a way,” I mean that 1) the US cast has way too big shoes to fill and 2) said shoes will never be filled. Skins US’s first mistake was recreating their UK counterparts for their version of the show, because it put the actors in a position to be forever compared to the likes of Dev Patel, Nicholas Hoult, and Kaya Scodelario, who set the stage to make Skins the hit as we know it is today. In my opinion, if the producers for the MTV version had of created a whole new set of characters for American audiences, then the backlash Skins US received wouldn’t have been so severe and we probably wouldn’t be having this analysis right now.
That’s not to say that the Skins US cast is bad. They’re not perfect, and while some of the cast could use a bit more lessons in the dramatic arts, they are at least trying. In my eyes, at least. With the way the US cast’s storyline is heading and if the season ends a certain way, hopefully they will be comfortable in their skins (no pun intended) come next season if the show is picked up.
On the UK front, the new cast of Skins is, dare I say it, just as compelling as the original cast and gives the show a new dynamic that is worthy of the Skins moniker. Characters like Franky, Alo, Grace, and Matty make my Thursdays worthwhile and I seriously cannot wait to delve into the minds of the latest set of Roundview kids as they go through the crap that comes their way, whether or not the obstacles come from clueless adults or themselves. In other words, these kids are great successors to the likes of Tony, Effy, Cook, Sid, etc…
In this section of Skins debate, the UK group wins out round due to the originality of the characters created. MTV’s Skins are still different versions of their UK namesakes, but not too much to not predict what will happen in terms of storylines and what not. Unfortunately for Skins fans, this makes watching episodes of the American version a “been there, done that” experience.
Skins UK is more like a John Hughes movie, which is something I’ve said since watching the show from the beginning. The teen characters are witty, off-beat (at times) and amazingly aware of the world around them when their parental/adult counterparts are ignorantly not. If you took “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”, “The Breakfast Club”, “Pretty in Pink”, and “Sixteen Candles” and threw them in a blender with a dash of “Porky’s”, “American Pie”, and speed, you would have an episode of Skins UK.
The UK version also manages to introduce us to each character by peeling back their layers while maintaining the overall plot with the other characters to keep the other storylines moving. A throwaway line or a simple glance can serve as an entire B-plot within an episode devoted to another character. With this type of storytelling, it’s easier for the writers to not have to worry about deflecting a lot time from the episode’s focal character and still have a concise and nicely structured plot at the end of the day.
Skins US uses this technique too, but the recent episode featuring the character of Abbud didn’t do this too well as it focused on the things going on around Abbud rather than the character himself. Even though this episode was the only one to misuse the opportunity of deeply exploring a character (besides the pilot episode), the entire series itself still managed to follow the structure of its British predecessor.
In this debate, both shows come out in a tie, because of their unique way of telling a teenage story without becoming a stereotypical CW teen drama (which I still watch and like, by the way).
The concept of controversy is not a stranger to the Skins brand. While Skins UK has not had as much flak for their depiction of teenage debauchery on steroids, the US has been blasted from all cylinders of the social and age spectrum for their frank, unapologetic, anti-CW take on the lives of American teenagers behind closed doors. The thing that the PTC and some highly sheltered American teens don’t get is that the MTV’s Skins is tame compared to it’s source material. In fact, it’s Skins-Lite, a softcore version of what the original show has to offer. The only controversy Skins UK has endured comes from some of the ads for the show (which are epic) that depict the teens in a hedonistic state, wreaking havoc and engaging in sexual acts in the process. All of the ads are memorable, especially the very first one which featured drunken kids having sex, getting high, and completely wilding out. The second ad featured the cast engaging in one huge, drug-induced orgy, but the third ad for the Second Generation cast took place in a pub, which they trashed in a highly violent manner. The third ad was the one which sparked some type of controversy, but nothing near as outrageous as what went down here in America.
With accusations of “child pornography,” “sensationalism,” and being dubbed “the most dangerous show on television,” MTV’s Skins clearly wins in the controversy round due to sensitive parents and teens who don’t want to face the reality of the world today; or simply don’t want their dirty laundry aired out.
While both shows win in this area, it’s good to point out that while some of the stuff that goes on in both shows can be exaggerated a bit, that doesn’t mean some of the things in the show are not going on. Some teens have stood with the PTC to say Skins is not an accurate portrayal of the average American teen. Yet, teenage pregnancy rates are high, teen STD cases have not went down, and teen violence is pretty rampant as well. Keep in mind these lapses in teenage judgment were an issue long before Skins (either incarnation that is) found its way onto our shores.
It’s ignorance like this which makes Skins ‘necessary’ in a way, because it’s a telling depiction of what’s wrong with our society today. The show is more than a showcase in teens gone wild, but takes a look at what happens behind the pretty white picket fences of suburbia, no matter the country. In this subject, both series tie for being a voice for misrepresented teens who are muted by the loud bark of societal expectations from some pretty warped parents. On the outside, Skins is kind of an ‘ugly duckling’ that turns people off at first sight. But if you decided to sit down and get to know this ugly duckling and see what’s behind the exterior, then you will be shocked to find a smart, engaging ‘swan’ that has more in common with you than you would ever know.
In conclusion, Skins US is still growing, but it’s finding its own feet, which will hopefully help it continue on its own path. As I’ve said before in previous musings, comparing Skins US to Skins UK can be brutal and kind of unfair in some areas, because while the name and style is the same, the shows are different for various reasons. For one, the countries are two different entities in themselves and serve on different modes of conduct. Secondly, no one, not even the Second and Third Generations of the E4’s Skins will be able to replace the original gang led by the leering Tony Stonem, because they were the founders and should be respected as such. There’s no other way around that assumption.
Skins is a phenomenon that is not going away anytime soon. Cut one branch of it and another might grow in its place. So I say just let it ride and enjoy the journey.