Why didn’t we do a recap of the US premiere of Skins last week? Honestly, after the first episode, I wasn’t sure it would be worth recapping. I remember, a year or so ago, catching a marathon of the first series of Skins UK on BBC America. There were kids being naked, doing drugs, having lots of sex and random subtitles (because regional UK accents are too hard for Americans to decipher sometimes). And one of those kids… oh my god… it was the kid from About a Boy. It was such a ludicrous, outlandish show and that was amazing. The second series excelled and with the third series, the whole cast was changed, the producers having cleverly set up a younger sister for the show to move focus to. With a cast of relative unknowns, the producers lucked out in finding young actors who fit their roles perfectly. After watching the first five minutes of “Tony,” the first episode of the US version of Skins, I thought it was horribly miscast. After watching the whole episode, I thought that it was also horribly written. I’m glad I felt obliged to stick with it, though, because the second episode, “Tea,” while not stellar, had some glimpses of promise.
The first episode introduces us to Tony, who UK viewers know will be the axis that the mostly ensemble show spins around. Tony is slick and cool and great. We know this because he lets his (seemingly mute) partied -out little sister back in during the wee hours of the morning, locks his dad out of the bathroom, peeps on an older neighbor undressing, calls his girlfriend “Nips,” insists that she find a friend to have sex with his best friend and makes a deal with his “coochie-cruncher” friend that she’ll have a wardrobe malfunction if said best friend does manage to sleep with someone. And we’re supposed to like him. This is where I realized two things: 1) Nicholas Hoult is a great actor because he made the same character with almost the same dialog really likeable and 2) the kid playing Tony is the worst piece of casting since Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl. I know we’re volunteer here, but could I get an alcohol budget if I’m going to be expected to watch this?[pullquote]I know we’re volunteer here, but could I get an alcohol budget if I’m going to be expected to watch this?[/pullquote]
The first episode follows the same plot as the UK series (with some names changed, some remaining the same) and serves well to introduce us to the characters: it’s hopeless geek Stanley’s (UK’s Sid) 17th birthday and his best friend Tony enlists his girlfriend Michelle (that’s “Nips” to you if you’re ultra-cool like Tony) to find a friend to bang him. Since no one in their right mind would, Michelle gets her crazy friend Cadie (UK’s Cassie) to agree (which she’ll totally do because she’s crazy and has been promised a buttload of drugs). First, though, he has to go get the weed from a strange dealer named Dr. LeDong in the suburbs who takes his balls as collateral (metaphorically, thankfully). Meanwhile, Tony is setting up an invitation to a rich-kid party (where they can sell the weed, I guess?) by auditioning for the choir at a girls’ school (sorry, I can’t make that one make any more sense). At the party, the foursome is joined by their friends Tea (pronounced “Tay,” the closeted lesbian cheerleader, replacing the UK’s gay dancer Maxxie), Chris (the hooligan with a soft spot for his teacher), Daisy (the asian musician, replacing Jal, the UK’s musician) and Abbud (the rebellious and goofy Indian, UK’s Anwar, who was played by the amazing Dev Patel). Chris (who’s a hooligan, don’tchaknow) starts a ruckus, Cadie passes out after taking a busload of pills and the crew needs to make a quick getaway… so they STEAL AN SUV, but it’s okay because they do it so that they can take Cadie to the hospital. As they get there, she wakes up, so they drive away (has no one reported this vehicle stolen yet?) to a lake edge to reflect and smoke some of the weed they didn’t end up selling. And Cadie needs to pee in the bushes. The brake gets disengaged and before any of the kids realize the car is rolling into the water. Miraculously, all the kids manage to escape (guess they all watched that Mythbusters episode) and walk home. The weed pops back up after all the kids have left. Poor abandoned weed.
Episode two, “Tea” opens with a day in the life of our token GLBT character. She makes eyes with a girl in class and passes her a note, heads home, changes, says bye to her dad, flashes her fake ID at the lesbian club, dances her little heart out, locks eyes with the girl from class, dances some more, makes out in a dirty alley, then the stairwell at home, spends the night having sex with the girl. The next morning, the girl, Betty, is confronted with Tea’s big old Jewish-Italian family including boxer-wearing dad, cooking mom, pregnant older sister (and her two kids hiding under the table), pervy younger brother and senile old grandmother, who recognize her as Danny Nardoi’s daughter. Betty was down for fun the night before, but when Tea tries to kiss her goodbye, she shies away, leading Tea to claim she’s a scaredy-cat. Before she leaves, her father asks her if she could do him a favor my going on a date with a colleague’s kid. Being the good girl she is, she obliges.
At school, Tony convinces Stan and Cadie to pretend they had sex, allowing him to hold Tea to her promise of arranging a wardrobe malfunction. The administration interrupts lunch to hold an impromptu assembly along the lines of Scared Straight. One of the ex-cons/examples of how not to live your life is Dr. Le-Dong, who seems to know that Stanley goes there but can’t seem to find him because he’s hiding behind a folder. Le-Dong continues his character trait of being weird and creepy. Aren’t there laws against letting ex-cons into schools? Or is that just pedophiles? He follows Tea, Tony and Michelle as they walk to class and as Tea walks alone, Betty comes up to her, hinting that she might be ready to come out. Tea brushes her aside, saying that she’s not looking for a relationship because “no one can match me.” Betty, disbelieving, walks away, throwing Tea’s earlier assessment back at her: “Scaredy-cat.” That night, as Tea gets some loving from the only person who can match her (herself, with aide of an Audrey Hepburn poster), her Nana wanders into her room and gets into bed (oh, the cringe worthy awkwardness!). Nana seems to think that Tea is her mom and admonishes her for marrying that Italian (because Italians only want the sex). Tea opens up to her Nana, asking what’s wrong with her because she seems to only want the sex and nothing that’s behind it. The next morning, Tea seems ready to come out to her family, but just as she gets them all quiet for a minute, her sister’s water breaks and chaos erupts again.
When her dad drops her off for the arranged date, she asks him how he can stand having his family disown him for marrying her mom. He loves her, and that’s all that matters. In the restaurant, Tea turns a corner and finds her date waiting for her – Tony. The two ditch the restaurant, find a bottle of vodka from somewhere and head to a park to talk about deep things like what love is and what lesbians do. Tea takes Tony back to (well, we know it’s not her place… is it the club? I honestly have no idea where they went) somewhere and shows him her dance moves. Which, since they’re drunk and horny teenagers, turns into them having sex. Tea can’t get through it without laughing though, totally not seeing what straight girls see in it. Tony, to give him credit, is pretty cool about being laughed at in the middle of sex. When Tea comes home, Le-Dong is waiting for her, wanting to know how to find Stanley. She stands up to him and he threatens to out her as a “little dyke.” At some point in this, Tea’s father has come out and even in an undershirt and boxers, yeah, that’s a guy I wouldn’t want to mess with. Le-Dong cowers off while Tea heads inside. Shaken by both events tonight, she crawls into Nana’s bed. In her senile sleep-talking, Nana mutters that Eisenhower failed her. He failed her because he said they’d be safe. But they weren’t safe, she and her girlfriend weren’t safe in this country, they were still ostracized, still persecuted like they were in the old country. Tea realizes what her grandmother is saying: she’s telling her the story of how she was a lesbian. She had a lover, but they were forced to part, forced to live lies and fit themselves into molds that were not meant for them. It’s an absolutely heartbreaking scene and elicited more emotion from me than I ever though this incarnation of Skins would.
The next morning at school, Tea sits by herself before being joined by Michelle, making for an awkward situation. Michelle inquires about Tea’s date, which she says went all right. Of course, the guy tried to get in her pants and Michelle only wishes things could be so easy with Tony, saying that she “works at it and it feels like… work.” Before things can get any more awkward in this conversation, in front of her boyfriend and the whole cafeteria, Betty walks up to Tea and kisses her, then walks out, dumping her boyfriend on the way. Leaving school, Tea’s father is out front, asking her to ID the guy who said “that word” to her last night. He’s got Le-Dong in the backseat of the car with a couple of thugs holding him. We think, “Wow, that’s a really accepting, yet still scary way of him accepting that,” before he says that he won’t stand for anyone calling his daughter a kike. Right. Tea asks her dad to just let him go. He drives away, letting Le-Dong know that it’s his lucky day and that he should take advantage of that luck and leave town. At home, Tony calls Tea. He’s clearly more affected by last night than he initially let on. She tells him that it’s not going to fly, but he insists that he matches her, just as Betty calls on the other line. She hangs up on them both, choosing instead to dance it out by herself.
While watching the Tony/Tea sex scene I had a revelation about both version of Skins. A lot of the controversy about the show is centered on the fact that these kids are doing things they shouldn’t be: swearing, smoking, drinking, using drugs, having sex… they’re doing “adult” things that society says they must wait another few years to do. But isn’t that what being a teenager is? Recklessly thinking that you’re an adult and you’re ready to do adult things without fully understanding what baggage those things come with? Sure, it’s exaggerated… most teenagers aren’t stealing and wrecking cars, getting on the bad sides of drug dealers, swilling vodka in the park… but teenage life is exaggerated. Every little drama feels like the most important thing in the world, that the entire universe must be affected by and rotate around. On the flip side, however, the big actions you make seem small… seem like there can’t be any consequences; not if you don’t want there to be. As a show from a teenagers’ perspective, Skins makes total sense. It’s outrageous, but no more outrageous then their everyday, emotional, heightened teenage feelings. I’m will to go there with this version of Skins, as long as they keep giving me rich stories like Tea’s.