British teen drama Skins, broadcast by Channel 4 and produced by Company Pictures, is one of those programmes that is wildly popular amongst my demographic of studenty types, yet for the life of me, despite being in the target 16-24 age range, I cannot work out why. And don't think I haven't tried. I've forced myself to watch it both at the time and after the fact, but it completely failed to hold my interest.
It concerns the lives and times of a bunch of teenagers who attend the fictitious Roundview Sixth Form College in Bristol, and tracks what they get up to and the various travails they face in their daily lives. As such, partly because when casting for Skins, the producers went out and tried to find real teenagers to appear in it, and partly because of its no-holds-barred (allegedly) portrayal of ostensibly average teenage life, one person I know has described it as "like Hollyoaks but not shit" and similar things. However, when I watched it, I could not help but notice two things about the protagonists which prevented me from taking the programme seriously:
Firstly, all the characters were preternaturally handsome and hip and cool - even the ones who had personal problems and stuff. The opening episode featured what purported to be a fairly standard teenage party - you know, where your parents vanish for the evening and leave some cartons of Stella in the fridge for you and your mates, and possibly someone brings along a bag of weed or two and so forth. Yet with all these Bright Young Things in one of their numbers' living rooms bouncing around to the MySpace band du jour, I couldn't help but wonder if any of the writers had been to an actual, real-life teenage party. At such a real-life shindig, photogenic 18-year-olds are non-existent, and in their place stands a sea of acne-riddled, sweaty herberts awash with Lynx deodorant and alcopop-swilling girls who would just DIE if Justin Timberlake touched them and wouldn't get into bed with the aforementioned menfolk even if their lives depended on it. Also, all actual parties I went to in my teenage years ended with about a third of the attendees being too drunk to care, another third masking their disillusionment with bullshit about how they'd given that Nathalie with the 36DD tits a right seeing to in the bushes, and the final third (i.e. me) generally bored and lonely and wondering what the bloody point was - but then again, the folks in that third usually only ever turned up to avoid being seen as boring by their schoolmates, parents, or both. Needless to say, this does not happen in Skins.
And secondly, despite the thoroughly photogenic unreality of the cast, they do have problems. But these inner struggles that the characters go through are dealt with in such a ham-handed fashion that these problems of theirs become their entire character. And as such, there's also the impression one gets that the writers have simply gone through a bumper bag of "youth issues" and cynically checked off each one by ascribing them to each character in a mercenary fashion. For instance, you've got Cassie, who's struggling with an eating disorder. Then there's Tony, former alpha male of the Skins mob who gets run over by a bus, wheelchair-bound, and loses his memory. Then there's Sid, a mopey piece in emo glasses and floppy hair who's desperate to pop his cork. Then there's Anwar, who's a victim of racial prejudice, and Maxxie, who's struggling with his sexuality, and Jal, who undergoes a teenage pregnancy. And then there's Tony's sister Effy, who is tipped to be one of the main characters in Series Three and is a pyromaniac, and so forth. Do you see what I mean? It's like the writers are so insistent on shoe-horning all these into the script that they forgot to make it seem natural or believable.
Speaking of which, a low point came in that respect when in Series Two, Sid's father carked it for no apparent reason, and it all seemed so artificial because earlier in the episode they'd finally resolved a few loose ends from an earlier plotline, and Sid's own personal plot had come to a bit of an end (i.e. he'd finally porked the object of his feverish desires - I think it was in the bogs of a club somewhere) and so they needed to fill up the rest of the series.
And another low point came early on the in the first series, when Tony decided to give unto Sid some magical tips and tricks in advance of an upcoming party which would aid the latter in getting his rocks off. Or, as he put it, would be "the keys to the furry city." I have to say, this ranks alongside Torchwood's legendary "When was the last time you came so hard you forgot where you were?" in terms of sheer awfulness. Both lines made me feel equally embarrassed to hear them - and I'm no stranger to vulgarity!
So there we have it then, Skins is a programme that, to be frank, is best avoided. It's about as believable as Elvis riding into town on Shergar the racehorse with the genuine Hitler Diaries in the saddlebags - and this is coming from someone who's in the target demographic. The world of Skins is a world in which inner struggles that I'm sure a lot of real teenagers have are seen as a compartmentalised impediment to the characters' ongoing pursuit of cheap thrills and alcopops and mechanical sex in club toilets. A world where intelligence and thought is derided, and reality no longer rears its ugly head. A world where if you're not spending every waking moment trying to bed girls and drink and get stoned, you might as well fall under a bus and be done with it.
And if you think I'm being curmudgeonly or I'm just bitter because I was one of that third of the teenage population who went to parties and found themselves marginalised, and that if I wasn't such meat to be wasted I would lap Skins up like the nectar of the Gods that it so blatantly is, you can get knotted!
UPDATE (May 24, 2008) - It's popular amongst sc3n3 kids and Myspace users. That alone should be reason enough not to watch it.