What’s All the Commotion About the New MTV Show: SKINS?

MTV recently started airing a new show called SKINS. It’s based on a British show of the same name. To describe it, it’s kind of a soap opera starring teenagers. Nothing new there. But I’m guessing the level of matter-of-factness that  the characters treat things like sex and drugs and drinking gets under a lot of people’s “skins,” especially parents.

I can appreciate that. At the same time, I went on OnDemand and checked it out for myself. Mostly because there’s been all of this commotion in the media about it, and supposedly sponsors are fleeing the show in droves. There’s even been talk of MTV canceling the show because it’s just offending too many people. And this is only after two episodes! I wanted to at least watch an episode or two before they pulled it and judge for myself. Was this show just dumb junk?

Frankly, after watching the first episode, I couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. It seems like a combination of the Canadian teenager drama DeGrassi High and Larry Clark’s movie KIDS. There is some behavior that might be considered shocking to some people, but it’s not portrayed in a shocking way. All this stuff is routine to these kids. They don’t give it a second thought.

The first episode revolves mostly around a long-haired, wimpy kid named Stanley. He’s the best friend of the popular guy at school, Tony (how the hell did that happen?), and Tony is determined to help Stanley lose his virginity. So he hooks him up with a “crazy” girl with a loose reputation. Things don’t turn out as planned, but overall this is a plot we’ve seen a hundred times before (actually, much more than that). The characters were okay – several are arrogant to the point of being assholes – and the story was interesting enough.

You can’t really judge a show on its first episode. Pilots and first episodes tend to be weak a lot of the time, as they are just setting the characters up, and we don’t really know them yet. This is true about SKINS, too. Watching the second episode, I found it to be a big step forward. I think the main reason I didn’t care that much about the first episode was that it was so much about Stanley, a character I didn’t care all that much about. In the second episode, the focus is on Tea, a girl who is part of Tony and Stanley’s group, who also happens to be gay. I actually found her story to be much more compelling and found myself getting into the show after this one.

I’ve read a lot about SKINS. Some people condemning it. Other critics dismissing it as junk. But I actually liked it. I don’t think it’s as shocking as the media is portraying it to be, but ultimately, a show rises or falls on its characters and its ability to engage us. And I thought SKINS did a good job fleshing its characters out, and I’ll be curious to see what happens to the show.

In the new issue ROLLING STONE, critic Rob Sheffield reviews the show (and is one of the critics who dismisses it as junk), but he does bring up an interesting fact. While everyone is screaming about SKINS and its casual attitude toward sex and drugs, there don’t seem to be many people outraged by another MTV show, Teen Mom, where pregnant teenagers suddenly find themselves thrust into the spotlight and just want to be famous. Somehow a fictional show pales in comparison to the message Teen Mom is peddling.

As Sheffield says “The whole point of Teen Mom is to promise the jackpot of celebrity to the underage girl who gets pregnant in the most colorfully sordid circumstances,” and “the true casualties are the screwed-for-life babies who can’t sign consent forms.”

I can see his point.

I heard that the audience for SKINS actually went down substantially with the second episode (which is a shame, because it’s so much better than the first one), and MTV may use this as an excuse to yank the show and avoid further controversy. But I wish they’d stand by it and give it a solid chance. I think this show is much better than the bad rap its getting lets on.

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