Last night was the premiere of MTV’s American update of the popular and controversial British telly show, Skins. Now, before we go any further let me tell you that I have never watched the original Skins, although I have a friend named Jed who swears by it, and at some point tried to argue that it was better than Friday Night Lights, so you can start to see just how powerful our friendship is because somehow we have made it through that nightmare. I have no opinion about the original Skins whatsoever, although apparently last night’s episode was basically a word-for-word remake of the original premiere episode, just with all the references to “lorries” and “birds” switched out to “drugs” and “drugs.” (Seriously, how many times did someone on last night’s episode say the word “drugs”? 1,00000000000 times?)
I do, however, have an opinion of the MTV version of Skins, and that opinion is that this show is awful.
It opens with a disgusting little boy taking a break from ogling the middle-aged woman next door to run cover for his Gossip Girl reject sister who is stumbling home with torn clothing and a face smeared in eye makeup, you know, classic Tuesday morning teenager stuff. Then he goes into the bathroom and locks the door and his dad is out in the hallway pounding on the door screaming “I WANT TO TAKE A DUMP!” Who can’t remember the awkwardness of being a teenager whose dad screamed “I WANT TO TAKE A DUMP!” so many times first thing in the morning. Then the disgusting kid–he really is so gross, and I know that’s kind of the point of his character, but yuck–starts making a bunch of phone calls on his way to school because it is his mission to get his friend laid before his 17th birthday. The rest of the episode is filled with their madcap adventures in drug dealing, underage drinking, louche winking, fist-fighting, peeing, and driving SUVs into the river. What a magical night!
The only real problems with the show are that the acting is bad, the shock-value is boring, and not a single moment seems even remotely true to actual life. Admittedly, it is hard for me as a 54-year-old man to know what is true to life to today’s teenagers, but somehow I feel like very few of them wander into a suburban subdivision looking to buy drugs and end up at a high-end whorehouse filled with impossibly beautiful whores. I even find it hard to believe any of them actually MAKE CALLS on their phones. Don’t teenagers communicate exclusively in SEXTs now? I’m sure they still go to parties and do drugs, as they always have, but the part at the end of the episode when the one girl is peeing in the bushes (if you’d like to know more about her character, she loves snacks. Interesting!) and another one accidentally elbows the SUV into gear and it rolls down the hill into the water is just some Benny Hill shit. Oh sure, teenagers are constantly wrecking vehicles, but come on. At the very least, let one and/or all of them DIE. The slimy asshole bobs up to the surface and looks around and says “Well, that could have gone worse.” LOLOLOL! Teens are so carefree!
It is that casual and assumed disregard for the basic concept of consequences that is the show’s real error. The thing that is interesting about teenagers (just kidding, there is nothing interesting about teenagers, but stay with me for a moment) is the way in which their lives are balanced precariously between their arrogant, delusional belief in their own immortality and their desperate fear of EVERYTHING. (Have you ever noticed how all teenagers believe that they are invincible but also that they’re going to die before the age of 25?) They’re total assholes most of the time, but they are also tiny little babies. Obviously, the show is going to have teenagers freaking out in future episodes. Someone will certainly get pregnant or something. Actually, that’s probably not “shocking” enough. Someone will get an abortion performed through their butt DURING AP calculus. Better. But the real life of the teenager is not either/or, it’s constant, like alternating current. So I call shenanigans on a gang of kids on their way to the hospital to save someone from a drug overdose plunging a $60,000 car full of drugs into the river and coming up all giggles.
The most obvious precedent for Skins is not Gossip Girl, which is a high camp soap opera, but My So Called Life, which launched the careers of A.J. Langer and Devon Gummersall. I don’t have an nostalgia for that show personally, but many people do. I’m confident that if you went back and rewatched it you would learn that it was neither as good nor as realistic as you might have thought. But here is the one way in which the old, John Hughes style teenage wasteland seems preferable to the new: it didn’t act so impressed with itself for knowing that kids like to fuck and take drugs. THAT SHIT HAS BEEN GOING ON SINCE THE INVENTION OF KIDS. In order to make an emotional connection with a TV show you have to have something more. Teenagers have volatile, if not deep, emotional lives, that is, like, their whole thing. The fucking and fighting and smoking is just an outcropping of that. And a boring outcropping, too.
I guess in the end Skins just made me feel old. But not in a bad way. I’m really glad that I’m no longer in an age group that MTV tries to appeal to. I forgot how annoying they are about it! Teenagers of America, I urge you, don’t watch Skins. Watch Bob’s Burgers instead. It’s great! Or READ A BOOK. Whatever you do, leave me out of it.