Friday, 30 January 2009

Teenage Kicks

Last week good friend and noted television critic Tom Haywood lamented me for not hating the first episode of Skins Series 3. Given it wasn't a great hour of television but as a first episode it did the job of introducing the cast of characters and got the ball rolling in the post Tony & The Gang climate. However, this week no such excuses can be made.

I have a number of issues with last night's episode 2. First of all, the characters themselves. The first two series of Skins worked on a sort of week by week revolving basis starting with the surfaces of these characters and then delving deeper into them as each took a turn in the spotlight. Series 3 looks to follow on from this format starting last night with the character Cook. And after an hour getting to know Cook all I can say is that he seems to be a more reprehensible bastard than at the start. I say getting to know him but all last night's episode succeeded in was taking the surface aspects of his character and cranking them up further and further. He's loud, obnoxious and likes women and drugs. Really? Is that it? The other characters aren't much better either coming across just as unlikeable as Cook or being pushed into the background so far that they basically act as set decoration (Blonde girl I'm looking at you). Even Effy who worked so well as Tony's anchor to morality in the first two series is nothing more than a vapid object to divide the male characters. Freddy and JJ are the best of a bad bunch but that's probably due to my natural inclination to side with the geeky. 'But Steve couldn't these same criticisms be applied to Tony from Skins series 1 and 2? Yes, series 1 especially. Tony is almost Machiavellian in his scheming and is manipulative to friends and enemies alike. Yet, he is never someone we as the audience hate. We in fact side with him because the other characters do. Chris, Sid, Anwar, Maxie and the rest are all so instantly and insanely likeable that because they obviously see something in Tony we want to see this too. Skins 1 and 2 can be viewed as Tony's journey from a selfish user of people to the humbled but still gifted leader of the gang who keeps them together in spite of the tragedy that seems to pervade their lives as the curtain comes down on their time together. Compare this to loutish Cook who repels everyone except his closest friends and seems to bounce from one ill thought out act to the next.

My second major issue with last night's episode was what seems to be a distinct detachment from the reality that the show was initially based in. Yes, I am quite aware that the show is fictional and has a license to exaggerate (I read comics for fucks sake) but what I loved about the first two series was that whatever situation the characters found themselves in it was always relatable. I've been to crazy house parties with people I didn't know, I've seen people struggle with the decision of whether school is the right environment for them but I have never trawled around Bristol at two in the morning looking for prostitutes. Compare the characters attitude toward The Mad Hatter in Series 1 with the attitude toward Jonny White in Series 3. I don't know anyone who would stumble across a chained up nipple clamped gangster and intentionally aggravate them by taking pictures on a camera phone but I do know people who have maybe messed with the wrong type of person and then done everything in their power to avoid them at whatever cost.

Related to the detachment from the reality is the Drug and Alcohol use in this series so far. I celebrate the fact that Skins acknowledges that teenagers enjoy drugs and alcohol. That is pretty much a fact. What I can't handle is the extent that it's been taken to. In the first episode Cook has a couple of pints before school and a load of 'spliff'. Does any teacher smell his breath? In episode two I know it's his Birthday but he drinks enough to probably kill an elephant and never goes past the 'a bit drunk' phase. There is also Pandora ingesting a small bag of drugs (MDMA) and again not feeling any effect. I'm not an expert but someone who's never used before eating an entire bag of drugs is sure to have some sort of negative effect isn't it? I don't want to be lectured on the dangers of drink and drugs but moments like this take me out of the story and that has to be a bad thing. For a far more accurate representation of my experiences with teen drinking watch The Inbetweeners and their increasingly more desperate attempts to even get their hands on alcohol of any kind.

I probably will be tuning in next week for episode three. The people behind the show have built up a load of good will from the first two series and I'm hoping the new cast will grow on me. Maybe for this to happen some of the louder characters will have to take a back seat and allow the so far background characters to come forward and shine. After the first episode Tom said to me that if Skins series one and two were American Pie, Series three was American Pie: Beta House (The Straight to DVD sixth movie that I have sadly seen). I wouldn't say it's that bad but at the moment if Skins 1 & 2 were Saved By The Bell this would be Saved By The Bell: The New Class (Before Screech came back as Assistant Principal).



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