March 2008

Arts & Letters

‘Skins’, Season 1, SBS

By Rachel Hills

Skins hit Australian screens in January with what can only be described as a cacophony of action, as the show's charismatic alpha male, Tony, rounds up his unlikely assortment of friends in a whirlwind of blink-and-you'll-miss-what-they-were-on-about phone calls - all while covering up his younger sister Effie's secret all-night-partying habit, perving on his naked neighbour across the street and riling his conservative father. Tony's mission is to help his nerdy sidekick, Sid, lose his virginity before his sixteenth birthday.

Created by a team of writers with an average age of 22, Skins has been billed as depicting middle-class British teenagers as they really are. Given that the first episode features a brothel, a drug dealer with an anger-management problem who goes by the name ‘the Mad Twatter' and a car driven to the bottom of a river, this claim at first seems a bit rich. But over time, characters that initially resemble caricatures - anorexic Cassie, hot chick Michelle, pill-popping Chris, gay Maxxie, Muslim Anwar, high-achieving Jal, snooty private-school girl Abigail - are fleshed out and made human.

With its anything-goes approach to sex, drugs and student-teacher relations (one character has an affair with his psychology teacher), Skins can appear hedonistic, as if lacking a moral compass. But not everything goes in this world; the lines of what constitutes good and bad behaviour are drawn empathetically, rather than moralistically, as we see how various actions affect the characters. Chris's mother abandons him without explanation, leaving him homeless; Sid drives Cassie, already teetering on the edge from depression, to attempt suicide when he cancels their date to hang out with Michelle; Anwar's friendship with Maxxie suffers from a clash of religion and sexuality; Tony's increasing narcissism sees him become a pariah among the people who once looked up to him. This is where the reality of the show comes into full force - not in its often-exaggerated dialogue and outlandish scenarios.

Ultimately, though, Skins - which is already in its second season in the UK - is best viewed not as a window into the life of the average teen, but simply as a well-produced, fast-paced and entertaining TV show, as much ribald comedy as it is drama.

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