– I Netflix and chill with the 2007 British teen drama.
Skins is a wolf hiding in sheep’s clothes. Billed as a teen comedy drama, and starring an ensemble of legitimately fresh-faced 18- and 19-year olds, the show takes pains to show you how far it’s willing to go. It takes about nine seconds to hit the full-frontal nudity button, and then the F-bomb floodgates open.
Recognizable as a middle-version of About A Boy’s boy and the evolved, furry blue Pokemon that dated Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult sucks in your hate-filled attention as Tony, the golden boy trickster with the compellingly-shaped head and cheekbones sharp enough to bloody your fingers. He’s got a hot girlfriend and a doormat of a best friend Sid who follows her around with mopey puppy eyes. Knowing what I know about teenagedom and adulthood, it’s depressingly accurate, but I want to strangle all of them.
Freed for the most part from the chains of this love triangle, the remaining characters make a real impression but rarely get room to breathe. Jal (Larissa Wilson) gets too short shrift as a posh and put-upon musician trying to reconcile with her family. Hannah Murray’s heartbreaking as an ethereal flower child with an eating disorder who vanishes into an institution, while Anwar (Slumdog Millionaire’s Dev Patel) and Maxxie (Mitch Hewer) thrust and parry over their respective Muslim heritage and homosexuality. Not all of them tear free from their narrative boxes, but Skins wants to show you they have layers, even if those layers are made of turd. Each episode is devoted to one of these children, tracking their break-ups, reunions, drug-use, and humiliations in a series of narrative loops and arcs that lock and interlock back upon themselves.
How the shows makes its bones is with the specific realism with which it portrays its teens. You’re either trying to get laid, or pretending you want to get laid, when really, you just want to play the clarinet and avoid your dad’s 24-year old girlfriend. Skins knows its subject matter: that aching desperation to be cool, the wild crushing disappointments, that incredible ability to have your whole world tilt on its axis with every nudge of the see-saw. What separates it is the terrible melancholy that pervades the overarching narrative, an individual and collective loneliness that never falls into after-school special territory. Skins isn’t trying to teach you a moral. It’s just a sad documentary.
There are some cartoonish parts: the portrayal of adults, Sid’s drug-dealing, a student-teacher romance, the ridiculous but cathartic capper to the season. The tone can swim in and out of consistency, and sometimes I’m never sure I totally enjoy the show as much as I am impressed with their studied accuracy. Teenagedom was long ago, but not so long ago that I don’t still feel the pain. A little too real, as my friend likes to say.
Watch it; it’s good. But be prepared to pity your teenage self.