SUBTEXT ON STEROIDS MTV has done what MTV will always do now — apply a tedious formula to what ought to have been left alone.
MTV has rated its new Skins TV-MA LDS - which in plain English means teenagers smoking weed, popping pills, fucking each other, and having emotional breakdowns in a scripted show that MTV would like us to think is designed to be viewed by adults. As with any good YA novel - or, more accurately, as with The Hills, the lush, semi-scripted blockbuster adolescent soap from Adam DiVellio that launched a number of unknowns to microcelebrity status before ending last year - the crossover potential here is rife. Skins (Mondays @ 10 pm) was adapted from a BBC drama that first aired in 2008; the MTV rendering has been created and produced by the same team behind the British series, Bryan Elsley and his son, Jamie Brittain. Although it seems old hat to call the American edition a dreary shadow of the original (whose Season Four is now out on DVD), that's exactly what it is.
But they've tried. The Parents Television Council has already labeled this "the most dangerous television show for children that we have ever seen," and it's called on Congress and the Justice Department to investigate MTV for "child pornography." On Skins, plotlines are not resolved with lessons learned, repercussions felt, and ruptured familial bonds healed. Instead, overlaid with all the angsty clusterfucks, gorgeous lesbian Tea (Sofia Black-D'Elia) masturbates to her Audrey Hepburn poster, not realizing her dementia-addled grandmother has tottered into the room. Tony (James Newman), smooth, slick, and just short of douchy, calmly pulls all the strings behind this hot slice of teen spirit, trying to get his friends laid to make him look better. His girlfriend, Michelle (Rachel Thevenard), screams before leaving the house: "Bye, Mom! I'll be out late with dangerous men, probably do a gang bang, then maybe a pregnancy pact with the girls!" The well-meaning, perennially befuddled Stanley (Daniel Flaherty) purchases four ounces of weed for a party - mostly for the benefit of suicidal Cadie (Britne Oldford), who prefers to ingest only the most awesome of narcotics. This all ends with a borrowed car stuck in a lake, everyone still alive, the drugs lost forever.
It sounds ridiculous, and it is, except that there remains something magical and unadorned about the way Skins unpacks the small, dramatic young lives it chronicles. But MTV has done what MTV will always do now - apply a tedious formula to what ought to have been left alone. Aside from certain cultural references, there's very little that an American audience wouldn't have loved about a Skins set as close to the charismatic BBC production as possible - particularly the wise, spacy, anorectic Cassie, who has been reissued as the far less compelling Cadie. Much of the quiet subtext has been pumped up like a footballer on steroids, with dialogue that occasionally edges toward affected, indier-than-thou saucy.
Still, this is, at its core, splendid, hyperbolic teen porn. And oh, how far we've come from the manufactured drunken antics of The Real World, or the early days of the CW, with its wholesome Dawson's Creek, where an illicit affair with a MILF-y teacher was considered hella controversial. There's a teacher-student affair on Skins, too, but it's tame compared with what the kids get up to when they're not inside the classroom.