I toyed with this one for a while. I wanted so much to be done with it and move on to The Vampire Diaries, but I didn't want to sink eight hours of my life into slides for the damn thing. I considered doing a live-action video review because that'd take substantially less time and still be a video. But then I decided that that was, in fact, a stupid idea. So for the sake of my own sanity, and to get this thing the Hell off of my to-do list, here you go.
The script to The Video That Wasn't: Skins
Okay, kids, confession time. I only made it through the first season of Skins. That’s nine episodes. Doesn’t seem like a lot, I know. But my first impressions after watching the first five episodes were so not good that I didn’t go back to it for almost a week, so even if I hadn’t decided not to watch past the first season, I wouldn’t have been able to anyway. But Skins, yeah.
I’m not really sure why Skins exists. It seems to fall into the same bizarre bracket of entertainment as those coming-of-age movies from the eighties, and similarly, I haven’t the foggiest idea what the plot is. There really doesn’t seem to be much of one, and every time I was asked what I’m watching this week I had to try to force some semblance of coherence out of the mangled mess of character interactions that define the show. Even in the pilot, the episode that is expected to attract the bulk of the initial interest, the first thirteen minutes was character introduction, and even then, the plot that I was introduced to was subverted, then abandoned, then revised, then abandoned again, in the same episode.
Also, the episodes don’t relate to each other, even when they should. There’s nothing wrong with a show that’s purely episodic with no connective plot threads, but when a main character attempts suicide in a dramatic fashion, I expect the next episode to contain at least a mention of it! Instead, I wait an episode and a half before there’s a single line telling me what the Hell happened! Even then, it’s a single line that, in the grand scheme of things, was clearly inserted to, ah, resolve, that plot line. It looked badly patched, as, in fact, it was.
Further, the writers’ grasp of foreshadowing is… okay. It’s like there was a production meeting and one writer said to another, “Hey, things are getting kind of predictable, what can we do about that?” and the other replied “Hey, let’s have an episode set in Russia for reasons that we won’t adequately explain?” or “Let’s give Angie a fiancé who’ll arrive out of nowhere at an inconvenient time!” It’s appalling.
Skins really reminds me of a sitcom. All the characters are interesting, though predictable. They interact improbably, and anyone who’s not a protagonist is portrayed as an obstacle rather than as a person to a ridiculous degree. In this show the obstacles are parents and most of the teachers, which backfires pretty frequently in the beginning by disrupting my suspension of disbelief. It makes it difficult to sympathize with anyone when everyone’s a cartoon character.
The writing is appalling. It’s truly difficult to listen to. It seems as though the writers were trying too hard to write how people actually speak. Well, they overshot the mark. These characters stammer and repeat themselves, they have terrible diction, and they speak in so fragmented a fashion that I found it difficult sometimes to ponder out their intentions, though that was in significant part the accent and the vernacular. It did get easier to follow the longer I watched, so it’s probably a failing of my being American. Got to admit, though, it seems that the British vernacular contains far more interesting curses than the American does.
Apparently the producers keep the writers of Skins fairly young in an effort to make it more realistic and connect well with the target audience. The problem with that is that if you’re writing for an internationally broadcast television show by the time you’re sixteen, you’re probably not a great barometer of normalcy.
For a show that thinks it’s a comedy, it’s very unfunny. There would be brief, sparkling moments of humor, but they were so brief that by the time I’d thought to laugh, they were gone. The effort typically seems to be a bait-and-switch, where the writers use the levity of the joke to create a stronger contrast and therefore greater effect for a dramatic event. It doesn’t work. Ever.
The characters (and here I’m speaking of the protagonists), are wonderful. They are unique individuals with their own interests. Their interplay and changing dynamic is unfailingly interesting. That said, the acting and direction kept them from being sympathetic until the episode preceding the finale. Prior to that the only character I was invested in was Sid. Cassie held my interest briefly, but the writers used her as a tease and a cheap catalyst, so I lost that interest quickly.
As a whole, the characters (quality and sympathy aside) are disbelief-breaking. They’re all from shockingly dysfunctional families, which seems not only unlikely, but also a cheap way to attempt to drag some actual life out of them. Every time something came up that got me to expect an image of family life that I can sympathize with, the writers and directors took it too far and I was again disappointed.
The acting is great. I know, that sounds like a contradiction, so hold on a bit and I’ll explain myself; the quality of the acting is fantastic, it just doesn’t work. The actors and their personal styles clash with the style of the show, and the dissonance is not just jarring, it’s amateur-ish. The exceptions are, again, Sid and Cassie. Who, I think I can safely say, are wonderful from start to finish.
As for technicals, the only note I took the time to make was on the camera work. “Unfailingly competent.” I mean the structure of the show doesn’t allow for a whole lot of brilliance. They do some interesting tricks, but that’s what they are, and that’s what they look like: tricks. Nothing innovative or fantastic anywhere in sight.
All of that said, there was a meta-break in the show that deserves mention, kudos, and a ticker-tape parade, and that’s director Adam Smith. Remember how I found the first five episodes so distasteful that I decided not to watch too much more? Well, then I watched episode eight. And damn. The writing was still shit, but the direction was fan-fucking-tastic. Suddenly the characters had more depth, the actors performed better, the plot (such as it was) was gripping, and the atmosphere was fantastic. And the only thing that had changed was the director. He directed four episodes, all of them in season one, and they were the best thing about that season. Even before ep8 I had picked his episodes as the better ones, and to have the improvement confirmed (by the ever-trustworthy internet) as the work of a single person was incredibly gratifying.
No matter how good the rest of it is, though, the writing is still awful. There are episodes with legitimate drama and character development that are killed by the dialogue, and moments of dialogue that are rhythmic and witty but are killed by the delivery and context.
The main selling point of the show is the sex, but upon even a cursory glance the sex is a cheap gimmick. It’s filler (so to speak), and the writers keep returning to it in a blatant attempt to keep audience attention, completely disregarding the fact that boobs are endlessly interesting, but boobs on television get old quick.
Kind of like this whole show.
Maybe it got better after the first season, but the first season is all a show has to sell me on, and that certainly wasn’t up to par.
Bottom line: Follow Adam Smith, Mike Bailey, and Hannah Murray. Nothing else about the show is worth more than a mocking quip.