In December, I learned that MTV was premiering a Skins adaption. Bryan Elsley, co-creator of the original and writer of some of the best Skins episodes ever, was also heavily involved in the American version.
Then I watched the first episode.
I just finished the third. It was not like riding in the ambulance after I tried to kill myself. At all.
I’m willing to bet that most people hate Skins US on principle. It falls short of its ancestor in every way, and we knew that was coming. I could probably dissect every scene of the first three episodes and make a list of reasons why it doesn’t work, but that would be tedious. I will try to articulate why I hate Skins US, however, beyond “because Nicholas Hoult/Hannah Murray/Bristol/England/the original theme song is better so there.” But allow me to gripe for a moment about that last thing. My boyfriend and I made up words to the theme song and we can’t do it for US.
To accuse the opening scenes of Skins US of being too cool conscious would be hypocritical. The formula is similar: a very young girl straggles home from a night of hard partying, a middle class neighborhood, Tony, the dizzying morning conference call, etc etc. Tony is supposed to be cool. He knows he is. There is immediately something off about American Tony, though. He is unattractively smarmy, forced, and…really damn young. In the original pilot, we knew that Tony was a jerk, but we couldn’t help but be drawn in by his charisma. In the new take, there isn’t the same sense that Tony earned his arrogance. Where is the calculating intelligence, the serpentine affect, the mastermind? I would have been fine with a new interpretation of Tony – perhaps a boy who convincingly garners his power by less overtly manipulative means, but Tony 2.0 fell flat. He ultimately comes off as the kind of self unaware cool kid I avoided and disdained in high school.
There are similar problems with the other characters (more on that in a moment), and I see two root causes. Skins US went with the tried and true practice of casting unknown actors for authenticity’s sake. It’s always worked well for Skins. MTV seems to have forgotten that these “real” kids need to actually be able to act. The result is a total lack of believability and chemistry. The dialog is not convincing and it’s not convincing that these kids would be best friends or lovers. Also to blame is Skins‘s unwillingness to fully commit to being, well, anything. Some of the characters are exact translations (Tony, Michelle, Chris), some have only their names changed (Stanley, Abbud), and some appear to be deliberate reinterpretations (Cadie, Daisy). There is only one truly original character: Tea, a lesbian filling the space that gay Maxxie left. Episodes 1 and 3 are the recycled “Tony” and “Chris” episodes of generation 1. “Tea” is original. Still, Skins refuses to be a new show or an old show. Many of the plot points from the British version seem incredibly forced. The same goes for the verbatim dialog snippets, which never fail to make me cringe. It’s all there, but there’s no feeling behind it.
Yes, Skins US is trying way to hard. Hence the message of “these kid are cool. really cool. the coolest.” being pounded into us by Skins. But worse, the show is so shallow. Now comes one of the saddest things I have to write about. Her name is Cadie. She is the Cassie of American Skins. She’s weird. Really weird. The weirdest. Like Cassie, she is supposed to be fresh out of the hospital and staying away from knives. So I guess Skins US is dealing with mental illness? When Stanleynotsid meets her, she waxing poetic about her own craziness and staring longingly at sharp objects. I can’t tell what her problem is. It looks like she’s a self harmer. She also only eats cheese puffs, something that’s confirmed when she shows up to episode 1’s party munching on a bag. Sure, Cassie was weird, but none of her weirdness was without context. When she rearranges the kitchen at the party, it’s something that an anorexic, obsessive compulsive person would really do. But Cadie, with her quirks galore and cheese puffs, is a gimmick. For the record, I cannot tell whether Cadie is supposed to have an eating disorder or not. If she is, then Bryan Elsley, writer of one of the most nuanced anorexic characters ever, has broken my heart.
Skins is supposed to be handling the transition from childhood to adulthood, and many of the situations and issues on the show are very adult. Yet the cast of Skins US appears so uncomfortably childlike. It bothers me the most with Tony and Chris, who I believe it was the most important to skew older in the original series. In some ways they are counterparts: Tony exacting his godlike control while Chris is constantly losing control. Nicholas Hoult and Joe Dempsie were both excellent as pseudo adults. James Newman and Jesse Carere both seem lost in their own stories and look like children playing dress up. I had to watch episode 3, “Chris,” with my hands over my eyes. Chris is a tricky character. In many ways, he’s the wildest, so it was always amazing that he came out with a heartfelt and subtle arc rather than falling into debauchery for debauchery’s sake. Skins US really did trample on that character’s grave.
I’ve probably said everything that needs to be said, and too much on top of that. Maybe I love Skins too much. Just do this for me: imagine all the things that happened in generation 1 and imagine Skins Lite going there.