'Skins' second-episode review: Kiddie porn, kiddie bore, or something more?

This week on Skins, Tea engaged in some frisky sex with Betty — typical of the sort of semi-explicit acts that have advertisers fleeing the series with increasing frequency. Personally, I was more shocked that Tea would masturbate to a poster of Audrey Hepburn: Are none of our icons sacred? In its second outing, Skins continued to behave as though it was being boldly daring with lines like, “I screw girls, so what?,” liberal use of the word “s—,” and a scene of two under-age characters chug-a-lugging vodka while spinning around on a playground toy.

More often, however, Skins came off less like its far superior British version and more like a mediocre episode of Degrassi (and not just because MTV’s American-set show is shot in Canada). An early scene on Tuesday night offered a teacher uttering painfully unconvincing dialogue, lecturing students in the lunch room about “serious shenanigans like drugs, alcohol, wrongful sex acts… real bad stuff.” The speech was so stilted, it might have come straight from a press release by the Parents Television Council, which has done so much to stir up controversy about Skins. And that speech is also why the U.S. version of Skins fails artistically: Unlike the British version, which let the viewer make up his or her mind about the behavior onscreen, our Skins tells us that, even though he’s a dweeb, that teacher is speaking the bottom-line truth, that sex and drugs are baaaad.

I realize that what parent-watchdog organizations, scared sponsors, and I are criticizing are different things: They think bad behavior among teens portrayed by actual teens is appalling and perhaps a violation of child pornography laws; I think the crime of MTV’s Americanized version of Skins is that it’s so prettified and trite.

And mawkish. Take, for example, Tea’s most soul-searching remarks this week:

“Is it too much to ask for someone to be interesting? I just want to be equal!” These were among Tea’s profound thoughts this week, before and after she received words of advice from her dotty grandmother, whose dementia is played for laughs whenever it’s not intended to be a fount of Great Wisdom.

This is where the tone of Skins is most jarring, both in its context as a show about gritty reality (something all teen-audience-aimed shows strive for, because producers, and teens, think that’s what the audience wants most: a concept of authenticity that is cynical and downbeat, a very limited view of reality) and as a scripted compantion-piece to MTV’s biggest current hits, the “reality” shows Jersey Shore and Teen Mom 2.

“Real life sucks!” exclaimed Tea early on in the show. No: Falsely rendered approximations of real life disguised as taboo-shattering television — that sucks. Or more accurately, it sucks that this is the vision of reality that MTV and its audience believes in. Because reality really doesn’t have to suck. Reality can be, in fact, quite joyful and challenging and thought-provoking. MTV should try this angle some time.

Agree? Disagree?

Twitter: @kentucker

For more:

‘Skins’ loses three more advertisers

MTV’s new hit ‘Skins’: Could it be flirting with child pornography?

Comments (165 total) Add your comment
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  • Annie

    As I suspected after watching the episode, the most beautiful scene with the grandmother was largely overlooked and dismissed for the very brief masturbation scene.

    Great work, Mr. Tucker. Really, just an upstanding write up. /sarcasm

    • Agree

      Agreed, Annie. No doubt the PTC will overlook that scene as well because it doesn’t follow their argument of Skins as a show that’s detrimental to teens, as if it’s any different than much else on cable. Is it a good show? No, not by any means, but that scene was beautiful and it won’t matter because it doesn’t feed into the frenzy Ken wants to feed into.

      • Agree

        Oh, I see, the original comment was deleted. I take it you don’t like criticism, Ken? You can dish it out but you can’t take it?

      • blarg

        Don’t worry about that senile old goat “Agree”. His head is so far up his own backside that he’s out of touch with reality. His prehistoric views are no longer relevant to modern life. He’s still stuck in the eighties.

      • Lynn

        Out of curiosity, have you guys seen the original Skins? Because I don’t think Ken’s views are at all antiquated, rather he’s comparing this American one to the British one, which was certainly gritty, brutal and ‘real’, but it was also vivacious, and fun and full of life. In other words, a show actually worth watching. The drama about the MTV Skins shouldn’t be about whether or not they’re doing bad things, it should be about the simple fact that it’s bad television.

      • ash

        I’m a huge fan of the British Skins and Ken is right, the US version is shite!

      • Joey Joe Joe

        Yes, I’m sure Ken Tucker is sitting in the EW offices right now, waiting with bated breath and white knuckle intensity to delete the comments of those criticizing him.

      • Patrick

        You should learn to read comprehensively. Ken is not at all saying this is detrimental to teens. In fact, he is saying that due to sponsors and parent-sponsored organizations, the presentation of the “dangerous” scenarios are watered down. The presentation of the US version is pale and unrealistic, to where the british version was edgy, real, and done with a taste that made it relatable (something that probably wont happen on american tv).

    • Dominic

      This remake isn’t a patch on the original (which I also feel has it’s problems). It it is trying too hard to be ‘edgy’ and failing miserably. Ken’s use of ‘trite’ is right on. And next time, play the ball not the man – argue with Ken’s opinions – personal attacks on him just make you look ignorant.

    • Rawr

      I agree that the american version isn’t as good, but I don’t think it’s mtv’s fault. If american censorship and the PTC weren’t on their case so much then they wouldn’t have to water it down. When I watched the first american episode I was actually surprised they stuck so close to the original script and showed as much as they did.

  • B

    this version lacks the depth and believability of the original. the characters seem to be performing for an audience. The lines are clean and neatly packaged with no honesty or believability. The original was crude and sloppy in the best way. The dialogue and characters didn’t pull punches instead of stretching reality for the sake of brashness as this version does

    • kate

      I agree with this, everything feels forced. To me one of the biggest things missing is the chemistry between the characters, especially Tony and Sid/Stanley. In the bristish version their relationship was complicated and sometimes painful but in the end they were always there for eachother and were the driving force behind the show. I also feel like having Tea, who is

    • Big Walt

      That’s exactly it. I watched an ep just to see what all the hubbub was about and couldn’t believe how lame it was. It’s like it was written by a couple of suburban teens.

    • A-K87

      What B says reminds me of the US Office, Shameless and….(name any US remake of any British programme).

  • alana

    I’ve watched both episodes of ‘Skins’ & it is already on my list of have to watch favorite shows. Being a teenager in this timeframe, I want to watch more shows that ‘hit home’ and show more of what actually happens in life, not some cookie cuttin show about what adults WANT us to be like. We’re still young, we’re rebelious, this show is a way to express ourselfs. (:
    Just a thought.
    -Alana

    • @alana

      Honey, if you really want to express yourself, you might want to learn how to spell things correctly.

      • Jenn

        Really? That is what you take from someone expressing a well thought out opinion of their own? A couple of spelling mistakes that, let’s be frank, are ones that catch grown adults out. Get over yourself and your superior ego; don’t attack and patronise the rare individual who comes on here expressing a level and competent argument. If you can’t think of an argument contrary to their opinion, don’t sink to belittling.

      • whatevs

        Jenn, you’re the one who needs to get over yourself. How is Alana’s response well thought out? There’s no revelation in what she said, she’s just telling people she likes to watch this faux-porn of a show because it depicts what she really does. Fantastically thought out.

      • IHaveGas

        lol!!

      • Kyle

        LOL. People ONLY attack spelling and grammar on message boards when they don’t like what the other person is saying. That’s a fact. ;-)

    • Shea

      Sweetie, I’m a teenager too…and I’m just wondering, how often do you have casual throwaway sex, parade around like a whore and abuse drugs and alcohol? Skins is not a representation of what happens in the real life of a teenager. It’s just another hackneyed illusion of what a teenager’s life “should” be like. I’m a college freshman, and I’m proud to say that I’ve never touched alcohol, drugs, had casual encounters, or anything of the sort. Skins exists as it is, because people don’t want to watch a show where a teenager gets up, goes to school, interacts with their friends in a healthy fashion, goes home and goes to bed. That would just be terrible for ratings.

      • Shea

        While I’m on here, I’d just like to point out that I have seen the original British version of Skins, and it is miles above and beyond the MTV version. The acting is subtle, nuanced and a lot better than anything I’ve seen so far on MTV. Producers need to realize that British shows are British shows, and should not be remade into American programs (coughcoughBeingHumancoughcough). If I ever see an American version of Doctor Who…I may just curl up into a ball and die, because that will be the day I lose faith in humanity.

      • Annette

        Shea your an idiot if they were going to make a US version of Doctor Who they would of already done it by now! You act as if the Brits makes some amazing TV but they don’t!

      • Olive

        Teenagers don’t use the word “sweetie” you poser.

      • Menchy

        You’re in college and you’ve never tried drugs or alcohol at all? …I hate to break it to you, but you’re not who this show is portraying. It’s supposed to be about the normal kids.

      • sara

        As a junior in college, I can say that I used to tell my friends about BBC Skins because it was so similar to my high school experience. In fact, it is a pretty accurate portrayal of the experience most people I went to high school with had. Although the MTV version does not compare, it’s not all that far off base for a lot of teenagers.

      • Rawr

        @menchy

        Wow, I was about to say the exact same thing.

      • Karinthia

        Kewl you shloud come up with that. Excellent!

    • K

      Is the show truly reality? Do you really think anyone can live this way and not suffer lasting consequences be they emotional, physical, and perhaps mental? I have teens – I certainly would not want them to experience life in this realm. IT ISN’T REAL – THERE ARE SERIOUS CONSEQUENCES TO LIVING THIS WAY. Please don’t let yourself get drawn into believing this is acceptable.Be smarter than that.

      • Hi

        As a youth minister, I’d NEVER let this show in my home! I help with kids who are dealing with the consequences of this behavior every week…it’s sad that Hollywood (MTV rather) glamourizes this type of behavior and justifies it by calling it “normal teenage behavior.” As you said, there are SERIOUS and sometimes LIFE LONG consequences to behaving like this!!

      • caza

        No, the consequences to living this way are that you will have fun and maybe live forever. geesh, nbd.

      • Rawr

        If you watch the original series you would understand that some of these kids do pay and if you were a teenager in modern day society you would understand that this is fairly normal with a hint of hollywood.

      • Happy

        Kudos to you! I hadn’t tohuthg of that!

    • Don

      If you like this skins, do yourself a favor and watch the original British version. It is so much better and really goes far deeper into who these characters are and why.

  • Holly

    Disagree. I have a feeling your hating for the sake of hating. I can’t take your article seriously.

  • Garrick

    Could not disagree more. As a fan of the original I was ready to give up on this show last week, but I think tonight showed enough potential for me to want to stick around.

    “even though he’s a dweeb, that teacher is speaking the bottom-line truth, that sex and drugs are baaaad.”

    I didn’t get that at all. I think this is a gross misinterpretation of that scene.

    I do agree that the storyline with Tea’s grandmother could have been handled better, but overall the episode was a big improvement from last week.

    • lefty

      I agree!! I was disappointed with the pilot last week, but last night’s episode really drew me in. I’m not sure if it’s because Tea is a new character so they’re giving her room to grow or what, but I felt like she was real. I also like the dynamic between her and Tony (reminds me of Tony and Maxxie a tiny bit).

  • Trevor

    I would never allow this show on in my house, but I still remember my teenage years and it did suck, because I knew everything, but reality showed me otherwise. So teenagers must find a way to cope with this “new” reality. Most adopt addictions, whether sex, money, CO-DEPENDENCE, drugs, cutting, or any other thing that will allow them to be the masters of reality. I know from experience. Parents are at fault for allowing media, Hollywood, and friends to direct what kids learn.

    • Rawr

      Cool. So cut your kids off from all social ties and you’re doing a great job. I’m sure that having friends is what leads most kids to their problems.

      Are you serious?

  • Teo

    I wish that in all of this focus on the MTV version of Skins there was more of a discussion about the British series, because the British series is without a doubt one of the best programs of television that I have ever seen, especially for teenagers. Forget the so called pornography, which consists of little more than a few suggestive kisses and touches, forget the neutered language, forget all the poor approximations of British culture to American culture, the real problem with the MTV Skins is that there is none of the depth that made the British series so good. Why spend all this time talking about the MTV series that for all its best efforts is a shadow of the original, when you can actually talk about the beautifully acted, beautifully directed, and beautifully written version that already exists?

    • MCS

      If it weren’t for the outrage at the alleged pornography (or PTC definiton of pornography) then everyone would have to talk about the mediocrity of the show itself. I know which attention MTV would prefer.

    • Lynn

      You’re exactly right, Teo! And I think Ken was trying to make the same point.

      • Starr

        Hey, that’s the geraetst! So with ll this brain power AWHFY?

    • elena

      Booyah! This is what I’ve been trying to say. I keep sticking in with the MTV version to see if it’ll get any better…and I’m just not seeing it. It doesn’t help that Maxxie no longer exists and Tea (kinda?) has taken his place. It’s like an SNL spoof: the basic outlines are there, but the true essence of the show is lacking. Which stinks, because Skins (a reboot) could have been such a cool show to finally depict teenagers as complex and diverse as they really are in real life.

    • Hannah

      Here here!

  • Delta

    Ken, I see it is pile on time which is always fascinating. This means jumping on the bandwagon but of course making sure to differ on why one hates it. Such collusion for the final result is intriguing in terms of illuminating how persons with disparate political beliefs can come together to beat a rented mule. The problems occur in that your critique fails to hold up under scrutiny, both reveling in reductive analysis and ridiculing what one sees as an attempt to be daring. The former is lazy and is common to bandwagon criticism. The latter misses a crucial point in that the things viewed as daring are not, as with the ridiculous promo’s, shown in context as any sort of attempt to be daring. Teens cursing and drinking while at a playground were staples of teendom 20 years ago let alone now. The question is is the episode any good. I suppose if it came down to the dementia of the grandmother I would agree that it is not. On the other hand even that bit of business was a parallel, an example of how a child’s inability to express her fears and her needs to her family can feel as punitive and ultimatly tortuous as the stripping of one’s rights. Such commentary is intriguing because it is the very thing that the Parent’s Television Council derides, the facing of who we are and what we do to each other and what kind of conflict that brings out (is it no wonder that GLBT youth suffer from suicides, alcohol abuse, and drug abuse at such a tremendous rate). If Glee attempted and somewhat succeeded at capturing alienation, this episode better understood that the most horrific alienation is that of a child from her family. Tea’s presentation of a tough resolve were undermined by the want to be accepted and loved not for who she presents herself as to her family but as who she is. When she has sex with a male friend Tony, it is a wrongheaded way to establish connection with her father, the person who set her up on the date. Even her friend Michelle cannot understand such pressures. No other moment possibly captures this conflict better than a moment you deride, the masturbation to Audrey Hepburn. In doing so you present a serious problem. Is the act of sapphic masturbation to a heterosexual sexual icon bewildering or seen as tasteless because it is a girl owning the moment. That attempt to reach out to something unattainable is the very being of youth, the want for something one cannot fully express. In Tea’s case, it is a woman who is iconic and yet a woman in control of her image. Tea does not understand that to make such a connection means being brave herself.

    You are a good critic but you have a habit of going with the momentum. The reality is, that after a horribly done and cheap looking first episode, this was a strong episode that may have said as much about the disconnect a GLBT teen can feel from their family as any American episode has. No wonder the Parent’s Television Council hates this show.

    • Clarice

      Well said!

    • Maxxie

      The parents council doesn’t hate this show because it’s representation of a gay character and a plot about alienation. It hates it because of the sexual images and all the drugs and alcohol. The parents council is a lot of things and I think they overreacted to this show but to portray them as homophobic is without basis.

      As for this show giving a voice to gay youth please refer to the fact that MTV decided to replicate the British series word for word and yet decided to change the gay male to lesbian. The original scripts for this series kept this gay male in the adaptation of the series but the people at MTV decided for “creative” reasons that a gay male’s story did not mesh with the series. If anything we should be criticizing MTV deciding to exclude the story of a gay male. We should not going to praise them for creating a “safer” LGBT character. This is a typical move by the network. If you look back at the history of tv when networks felt a need to put a LGBT character on tv they have generally chosen a female character over a male character because they feel that Americans are more willing to tolerate lesbians than gays and won’t cause an uproar over women kissing. MTV’s decision to exclude maxxie, the gay character on the seires was an attempt to appease intolerant people. Let’s not praise them for putting tea on the series, let’s ask why they decided to exclude a well rounded gay character. Let’s ask why everything else needed to stay the same but Maxxie had to be changed.

      Furthermore Tea, originally Teo in the MTV scripts, is portrayed as a womanizer and user. She is portrayed as someone not looking for a stable relationship. I take issue with the fact that the only lgbt character is portrayed as a predatory character who cannot sustain a real relationship. It perpetuates the idea that the LGBT community is full of predators and deviants and that their relationships are sexually driven and undeserving on recognition. Maxxie was never portrayed in such a way, he was always looking for relationships and yet Tea is just looking for some quick action and treating women as disposable. Sure she’s broken but she was portrayed more as a sexual deviant than as a girl looking to have her needs met. So on top of being homophobic this portrayal also feels a bit misogynistic in the sense that because she is a girl who wants sex obviously she is a slut who doesnt want a serious relationship.

      And finally, as to your critique of the writer, it’s baseless. If ken wrote about how there was too much sex or drugs or alcohol then I would say yes this is a bandwagon review. Ken critiqued the show itself. Just because he said the episode had much to be desired for does not mean Ken is following a trend. His critique, unlike most others, address the character and storyline and not whether this show is an accurate portrayal on American teenage life today. Your review of his critique, however; was basically because you say you don’t like the episode for any reason, even though those reason dont conform with the general criticism of the show, you are a follower and have jumped on the bandwagon. Give me a break. He just didn’t like the show because it lacked depth.

      So in short, the show sucks, MTV decision to exclude Maxxie was homophobic, their portrayal of Tea as the lesbian equivalent of a mandater is equally homophobic and misogynistic and Ken provided a thoughtful review which provided more depth than most reviews out there that only comment on the use of sexual images as well the consumption of drugs and alcohol in the episode and whether the series truly reflects the lives of teenagers. (sorry for the errors, wrote this on a phone)

      • Holly

        I’m sorry, but the decision to exclude Maxxie was homophobix? Honey, Maxxie was a horrible character full stop. He played no part in Skins. And it wasn’t MTV who changed the character, it was Bryan Elsley aka the man who created Maxxie in the first place.

      • MCS

        Just cause you didnt like him Holly, doesnt make him horrible.

      • Marissa

        I thought Maxxie was an amazing character. His relationship with Anwar and their eventual acceptance of their differences was extremely moving, as was his relationship with his father.

      • Effy

        I also found this change (and portrayal) to be extremely homophobic and misogynistic. It also, once again, trots out the tired and damaging idea that lesbians will have sex with the “right” man.

      • valerie

        Maxxie was definately looking to sleep around as much as the rest in the original, but I agree, it’s notg daring to make his character a girl, just more US friendly and played up for sex appeal. I think its very disaapointing they kept the hook up with Tony. You can spout crap about bisexuallity and insecurity and daddy issues, but the bottom line is that you’re sending the message that lesbians will sleep with men when its convenient. Despite having no interest in men or Tony, Tea sleeps with him because she wants to be matched? At least the original painted the coupling as curiosity and experimentation. This is just offensive and the grandma stuff was trite and unrealstic. I was hoping this could at least maintain the pace of the original

    • Stephanie

      THANK YOU!!

    • Your mom

      /snooze

  • Ken

    I am shocked that you are saying Bill O’Reilly attacked Keith. Keith was pretty ruthless with who ever he disagreed with. I watch both shows and Keith was the black Mamba spitting venom.Bill never responded to any of the nonsense and that just pissed off Keith even more. Calling Bills commentary an attack on Keith really makes me under stand now what a huge wus we have here.

    • MojoJojo

      I think you are on the wrong page dear.

    • Nerice

      Your answer shows real inetlilngece.

  • CD

    This show definitely tries too hard. It’s not the worst thing ever. But at its best, it’s erratic faux eroticism. Everything that’s supposed to be provocative is just contrived. I couldn’t decide which was more absurd: Tea sexual triple crown in the span of 24 hours or her drinking enough vodka to puke, then rallying for a choreographed dance. Like I said, it’s not the worst thing ever — artistically or in terms of questionable content. But it’s mostly silliness parading around as seriousness wrapped up with some artful shots and a solid score.

    • Pink Lemonade

      Now that was well said and nicely distilled. This show is quite a bit of prattery and self-important. Its not delivered well despite the almost verbatim scripting.

  • Anon

    Its tv… not real life… people watch tv so they can see other people do the things they can’t, I’m not going to go and have sex with all kinds of girl”s” because some actor did it on tv… people have such warped views on the subject

    • Constance

      I’m out of legaeu here. Too much brain power on display!

  • L Wrong Hubbard

    I don’t live in the US so I did not have the great fortune to be able to watch this “groundbreaking” show. What’s the big deal? Sounds like a mix of the movie Kids and an edgier Dawson’s Creek?
    *YAWN*

  • Frankie

    the show is gross and icky–can you imagine any of these kids turning into mature, loving adults??

  • Nia

    All the chatter revolving around this show is interesting. A little over a decade ago, people were saying the same thing about a show, similar-in-nature named “Undressed”. These things are cyclical, at least they are on MTV.

  • Shawn

    I honestly don’t see what all the uproar is about. Aside from stealing the car in the first episode and running it into the water, I don’t see anything in the show that my friends and I didn’t do or say when I was that age. I by no means live in a bad area either. I live in typical cookie cutter suburbia. Open your eyes people. Kids are doing drugs, drinking, and having sex and they aren’t doing it because of the new TV show. And on another note, how is this show any different from Gossip Girl? Other than the kids on that show being rich you see the same things on that show. Sex, drugs, and underage drinking. At the end of the day, if you don’t want your kids to watch it dont let them watch it. Causing all this controversy just drives ratings. I wouldn’t of started watching it in the first place if I didn’t want to see what all the fuss was about. Now I kind of like the show.

    • Katyo

      What’s funny is that kids have been doing this kind of thing for decades, probably much, MUCH longer, but people so conveniently forget what it’s like to be young.

      • Fannie

        That’s a mold-braekre. Great thinking!

    • DMV

      Comment hits so close to home. I Grew up in the greater washington DC area and must say that this show is pretty relevant to much of the things i did, and was exposed to during highschool. Some of the things they confront i dealt with in middle and elementary school * yeah its scary to think that elementray school students are already thinking about sex ::Sn a story broke last week that 2 students in second grade at a school in memphis where reported particapating in oral sex::

      i just graduated highschool 3 years ago so i am pretty sure that much of this stuff is still going on. Only thing that i dont like about the show is that it seems at times MTV/Producers seem to tone down what they are really trying convey with some issues so that they can be P/C. (I am hoping that is the issue and not that the show is that poorly written) if your going to bring up things that most american parents who are out of touch with there childrens reality arent going to like then do it all out. (** strictly opinon **)

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