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MTV "Skins" Is Just Not U.S.

Tess Goodwin |
January 17, 2011 | 11:46 p.m. PST

Staff Reporter

The teenage American cast of MTV's "Skins" (Photo courtesy of MTV)
The teenage American cast of MTV's "Skins" (Photo courtesy of MTV)
The highly anticipated U.S. version of British teen drama “Skins” premiered on MTV Monday night with an almost completely parallel first episode save the British accents and cursing. Tony, the ring leader of the group, makes it his mission to help Stanley loose his virginity and score some “bud” from a drug dealer who threatens to keep his balls as collaterall if he does not repay him. "Skins" takes real life scenarios and takes them to the extreme.

For fans of the original, MTV's version of Skins may come off as just a cheap knock off. But for American teenagers starved for more realistic characters than the ritzy privileged kids of 90210 and Gossip Girl, it is refreshing. For starters, the actors (who are 15-19) actually look like they should be in high school unlike the actors in usual American teen dramas that are well into their 20s. "Skins" takes each episode to focus on one character with a unique personality such as Daisy, the only one amongst her friends who takes her studies seriously; Michelle, the pretty girl with the most desirable boyfriend, Stanely, the virgin, Cadie, the crazy one; and Chris, the lovable trouble maker.

In keeping with the British "Skins," there is a gay character, but the American version has swapped out the tap-dancing Maxxie for the cheerleading Tea.  Tea is a badass lesbian who does not want to be in a relationship “because no one measures up to her." So, finally American teenagers have a character to look up to who is actually gay not just confused or experimenting like Marissa Cooper on The O.C. or Adriana's small stint as a lesbian on 90210. Tea is openly gay and struggling to find a deeper connection with the girls she sleeps with. 

In it's first episode, one can see the sub-plots already forming. Abbud (a Muslim teenager) gets thrown out of his prayers for his cell phone ringing and Chris inappropriately carries his pretty teacher's books everyday (and she lets him). One can see the very surface of each of the characters and one wants to know more. 

The anorexic Cassie who finds thrills in organizing food has been swapped out for Cadie, who has a passion for knives. It is unclear if Cadie was in rehab for anorexia or cutting herself but when she says "I am crazy," you believe her.

With U.K. television censorship slightly more lenient than the FCC, the British drama first caused controversy when it aired on Channel 4's E4, mainly due to the excessive alcohol and drug use and sexual content that stunned parents of teenagers across the nation.  MTV's "Skins" is rated TV-MA and although it is not understandable as to why in the first episode, the previews promise the sex and drug filled scenes that arise in the original series. It does show the gang smoking a joint in the school bathroom which is not necessarily believable but definitely plays on the American teen's dream of being able to get away with something like that.

But no one can curse like the British and “Skins” just is not the same with “frikkin” as it is with “bloody hell” and “bollocks.” When Stanley is with Cadie and she passes out, it actually “beeps” instead of saying “fuck” which immediately looses a lot of the authenticity. 

“Skins” is supposed to be a reflection of what teenagers actually act like and talk like. It was a bit puzzling to hear the characters refer to drugs as “narcotics” but maybe high-schoolers are saying that now. "Skins" also runs into the problem of keeping some of the original dialogue when it does not sound American. When Tabitha, the rich blonde girl who goes to an all girls school invites Tony to “get retarded on drum and bass”, it seems completely off the wall. Last time I checked, American teenagers do not widely listen to drum and bass. 

Overall, the acting is not the best in MTV "Skins." Most of the characters seem very forced and unnatural. The British "Skins" boasts about being a raw and uncensored real portrayal of British teens (of course exaggerated for TV) but MTV's "Skins" does not feel real. The only thing starkly American about it is the inclusion of cheerleaders. Common American slang was nowhere to be found in the first episode.

One thing that MTV got totally right was the music. Opening with Animal Collective’s “My Girls” as Tony’s little sister sneaks back into their house at daylight seems totally appropriate. Also, including “When I’m Small” by Phantogram as the characters parade around school seems like just the song a cool high-schooler would have on their iPod.

MTV’s "Skins" tries to keep the British cool factor by dressing the characters in odd outfits. Not only do they look awful, but it is simply not believable. American teens are not known for their unique style. Their outfits are jarring and distracting, with the exception Cadie’s red dress with combat boots in the ending scene which seems to fit perfectly. What’s even more puzzling is that it is snowing outside and they are all wearing tank tops.

"Skins" boasts being shocking but it just came off as odd. At its base, the characters and plot are believable. Trying to lose one's virginty, scoring drugs, and crashing a party are normal high-school activities. The first episode was not a game-changer and not spectacular, but it was certainly completely different than any other American teen drama, and it has that going for it. 

Catch "Skins" on MTV on Mondays at 10pm.

Reach reporter Tess Goodwin here.



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