Lily Loveless, Merveille Lukeba
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Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
nce upon a time (like two years ago) “Skins” generated a huge amount of controversy, and probably with good reason. Any show featuring oversexed, drugged-up teenage protagonists will tend to garner negative press. But “Skins” hung in there, and kept on doing what it does, and at the time of writing it’s got four seasons under its belt, and has been commissioned for another two. MTV is also getting in on the “Skins” action, and they’ll be unveiling their Americanized remake sometime in 2011.
Now, other than by reputation, I was mostly unfamiliar with the concept when it came time to watch this DVD release of its third season, but Will Harris did a fine job of covering Seasons One and Two (I’m still unsure about the decision to label these season sets as “Volumes”), so I was able to play a kind of catch up through his enthusiastic takes. Turns out, though, most of that was unnecessary, as in its third year, “Skins” has an almost entirely new cast of characters and a new set of stories to tell. For the time being, this is apparently the plan for the show – every two seasons the cast will rotate and change, introducing a new batch of kids in their final two years of the U.K. equivalent of high school. If you’ve never seen the show before, this is as good a place as any to begin an unhealthy education.
“Skins” is an ensemble series, although the season does shine the spotlight on each of the major characters for an episode apiece, all while continuing the ongoing story of the group. This season showcases a complex love triangle between bad boy Cook (Jack O’Connell), his lifelong skater friend Freddie (Luke Pasqualino), and the object of their attraction, Effy (Kaya Scodelario) – the primary crossover character from the previous seasons, as she was the younger sister of Tony (previously a major player, but now gone from the show). Effy is as fucked up a teen as any you’ve ever seen, and her parents are in the midst of splitting up, which doesn’t help matters. In the season opener, she catches the eyes of both Cook and Freddie, but Cook, being the more outgoing of the pair, manages to stake his claim first. What develops between Cook and Effy can only be described as toxic, and it’s borderline heartbreaking (or maybe just plain scary) to watch the deterioration of their dignity as the season moves forward. You want Effy to go for Freddie, but as is often the case in real life, the danger Cook offers is addictive for this self-destructive girl.
In addition to our main trio, there’s also JJ (Ollie Barbieri), the third in a self-proclaimed Musketeer trio that includes Cook and Freddie. He suffers from a form of autism, which makes him socially inadequate, and yet arguably more self-aware than the many of the characters. Pandora (Lisa Backwell) is the inexperienced, awkward virgin and Effy’s best friend. Needless to say, she doesn’t stay virginal for long – not on this show. Pandora takes a liking to Thomas (Merveille Lukeba), an African boy who has taken a chance and moved to Bristol to make something of himself. There are also the identical twins Katie (Megan Prescott) and Emily (Kathryn Prescott), the former of which is vapid and promiscuous, while the latter is sensitive, intelligent and on the verge of coming to terms with being a lesbian – a development her twin finds abhorrent. Finally, there’s Naomi (Lily Loveless), the object of Emily’s lust – only problem is, Naomi isn’t into girls, but that could all change before the season is over.
The performances are pretty solid across the board, and certainly as the season moves on, these young actors – many of whom have never been in front of a camera before – become more and more comfortable in their “skins.” But Jack O’Connell’s Cook is undoubtedly the pulse of the series. This obnoxious, horny, loud-mouthed, fearless lothario owns the season. He’s the kind of guy who makes for a fascinating TV character, and yet if you knew someone like him in real life, you’d take great pleasure in clocking him into unconsciousness (provided he didn’t beat you to the punch). You wouldn’t want him anywhere near your daughter, and a kinship with your son would be out of the question.
“Skins” displays a great deal of casual sex and substance abuse, which is what’s had many people up in arms about it, and more often than not it goes dramatically unpunished (particularly the drug use). Since I haven’t seen the previous years, I can’t know if the tone here is the same as previous seasons, or if the father and son creative team of Bryan Elsley and Jamie Brittain are going for something a little different with the second generation. (Although based on Will’s reviews, I’d guess this is more or less the same kind of vibe that Season One had.) Nothing I’ve written here will prepare you for how darkly comedic this show can be. While one might think, given the subject matter that’s being explored, some comedy might be a relief, I’m not sure if it ends up doing anything more than undercutting the potentially serious examination of what might be some real teen issues. (If I found out my teen was this out of control, I’d lock him in his room and consider homeschooling.)
It’s not as if the show doesn’t have something to say, because I think it does, but it wants to have its cake (or in the case of “Skins,” MDMA-laced brownies) and eat it too. Something tells me that if the show didn’t highlight the humor, it might not be seen as quite so objectionable, since it’s the humor that probably makes it attractive to teen viewers. In any event, there’s one thing that I’m sure of in regard to “Skins”: It’s an immensely engaging series that never stops entertaining; it’s just a matter of whether or not you’ll find the material in direct conflict with your worldview. Plenty of people will judge it to be trash, and they might be right, but I’d encourage anyone willing to give it a chance to at least sit through the entire ten-episode season before making that call, because at the end of the day, it has far more heart than not.
Special Features: There’s behind the scenes material for all ten episodes, much of which is comprised of interviews with the actors. It’s kind of a relief to watch this stuff and realize that these are indeed actors playing these people (especially in the case of O’Connell). There’s a featurette which shows the casting call and auditions for the third season, which is pretty neat, because you can see some of the actors who were eventually cast standing in long lines as unknowns. Also under the “behind the scenes” banner is a trailer shoot for Season Three. There are four scenes called “Skins Stories” that are funny, dramatic pieces, but I’m not sure how they fit into the overall storyline. They don’t feel like deleted scenes as much as they feel like background information and further character shading; well worth a look for the hardcore fan, no doubt. And then there’s a selection of video diaries for most of the characters, which the actors play out in character, and are an immense amount of fun. Finally, there are a couple trailers for the show that are, well, trailers.