Anyone who has spent any amount of time with me over the past couple of months has heard me raving on and on about a certain television program called Skins.  Aired on E4, the sister channel of the UK’s Channel 4, the show centers on the lives of a group of teenagers in Bristol, England as they navigate two years of sixth form.  It’s unique in that the characters, played by a young, amateur cast, are replaced every two seasons when they graduate.  And, just to amplify the notion that life is predictably unpredictable, at least one main character dies in every generation (I’ll let that mess with your head when you watch it).

My first impression of the show wasn’t necessarily a good one - at first, it was simply an edgy teen drama that probably wasn’t going to have any real depth.  However, I found myself laughing along until the second episode centering on Cassie Ainsworth, the whimsical, free spirit who struggles with anorexia.  That episode is where things really took off, providing deep and completely real insight into being a teenager.

Aside from Cassie, main characters in the first two seasons include Tony (the popular guy), Anwar (the muslim), Maxxie (the gay one), Chris (the “bad boy”), Michelle (the popular girl), Sid (the nerdy virgin stereotype) and Jal (the “good girl”). Despite the differences in the characters, they’re united through bonds of old friendships and their hedonistic lifestyles which allow the audience to dive deep into UK party scene.  Because of the character’s lifestyles and the flaws that provide the very depth and reality we crave in good television, the show has been deemed controversial, covering topics like mental illness, drug and alcohol use, sex and sexuality, teen pregnancy, religion, and more.

The series continues on with a new set of students coming in for the third and fourth seasons (which fans began to call the “second generation”).  The only characters that stay are the school staff and Effy, Tony’s younger sister who made a couple of appearances in seasons one and two.  Aside from that, we’re introduced to other characters like Cook (the troublemaker), Panda (the naive, “uncool” girl), and Katie and Emily (the twins), along with more.  

The fifth and sixth seasons were quite possibly the riskiest; the set of characters were completely changed (with school staff excluded).  It featured characters such as Franky (the “weird girl” with gay parents), Nick (the jock), Mini (the popular, fit girl), Rich (the metal kid), and more.  This last generation dealt with all the same problems teenagers really deal with, just as the first two did - it was the better quality and higher budget production, along with the more modern late 2000s lifestyle, that gave these two seasons the “glammed up” feel that some fans didn’t like.

Plot and storyline aside, Skins’ young cast provides a more realistic and relatable feel, as opposed to the very mature 16 and 17 year olds found on American television, who are typically played by older actors.  The show can almost be shocking at times due to Channel 4’s views on diversity and filtering television to be more glamorous than real life.  Take, for example, this excerpt from the Channel 4 website discussing the channel’s promises and goals, which I would highly suggest reading in its entirety: “Our public service remit extends beyond the value we offer to the viewing public to our contribution to the strength and diversity of the British creative economy.  We aim to be the destination of first choice for the independent  programme maker.  We will reflect a range of voices which are in danger of being crowded out by an increasingly commodified television environment.”

Overall, Skins is certainly the most brilliantly written and skillfully carried out television show I’ve seen.  Though it’s targeted towards teens, the empathy that you feel for the characters and the depth of each character’s plot makes it worthy of all ages.  While parts of the show get really dark at times, it’s made manageable to watch by the witty, sometimes downright ridiculous humor and the strong pull of the storyline.  The soundtrack is quite possibly the greatest soundtrack for a show or movie that I’ve seen, featuring many different artists and genres that help to give the show its creatively diverse and fresh feel.  It was cancelled in 2013 after a seventh season which provided closure for some of the storylines that were left open (“Fire” features Effy, Naomi, and Emily, “Pure” features Cassie, and “Rise” features Cook), and the show was so successful that a (less original and successful) US spinoff was made.  I have yet to see another show that comes close to being worthy competition for Skins.

Published by Jasmine Uitto