Monday, 22 March 2010

Skins Second Generation: Teen Drama for This Age

Was the second generation of Skins the best teen drama ever produced on television?


That is the question I asked myself as the final episode featuring these remarkable cast of characters aired this past Friday. To be fair, the original characters that featured during seasons 1 and 2 had their charms, but the second generation seemed far more grounded in reality, and as a result the drama was far more intense. The charming Nicholas Holt anchored the first incarnation of Skins as Tony Stonem (particularly in the first series) and only about four of the eight original characters ever fully grabbed my attention. However, Skins Mark 2 is where my heart belongs, for all the gang have garnered my sympathies somewhere along its 18 episode run.

Effy Stonem (Kaya Scodelario), Tony's younger sister, becomes the lead character for the second generation (after also appearing briefly in series two). Effy is beautiful, popular, and a natural leader like her brother, but also quiet and distant, attempting to keep her own troubles hidden. She is fully aware of her desirability and capacity for manipulative behaviour, but feels expressing her own emotions will show weakness. Pandora Moon (Lisa Backwell) is her best friend, having appeared for the first time in a second series episode. She is innocent to the sexual and narcotic world in which Effy indulges, but is ready and willing to explore it. Thomas Tomone (Merveille Lukeba) is an immigrant from the Congo, with a morally upright outlook and good-hearted nature. James Cook (Jack O'Connell), Freddie McClair (Luke Pasqualino) and JJ Jones (Ollie Barbieri) have been best friends since childhood, known as "the Three Musketeers". Cook is charismatic and sociable, but boisterous and not afraid of authority. His womanising drives many of the events in the series. By contrast, Freddie is an easy-going skater who likes to smoke weed, and as the more sensible and responsible friend, he is often put out by Cook's behaviour. JJ's Asperger syndrome makes it difficult to fit in socially, but he has learnt to use magic tricks to make friends. His friends view him kindly but with a degree of amusement, and sometimes irritation, but he knows Cook and Freddie will always take care of him. Katie (Megan Prescott) and Emily Fitch (Kathryn Prescott) are very different identical twin sisters. Quietly insecure Katie thinks of herself as something of a WAG and wants to usurp Effy's place as queen bee of the group. Her homophobia causes problems with her sister Emily, who is coming to terms with her identity as a lesbian. The quieter of the two, Emily is used to being the shadow of her sister, and is sulky but perceptive. She hugely admires Naomi Campbell (Lily Loveless), a fiery, politically-charged passionate young woman with idealistic views and an abundance of ambition.

Skins Season 3 Trailer

As a self appointed expert on teen dramas, currently watching no less than six shows that could be considered within the genre, and counting a further four in amongst my all time favourites, I contend that
Skins Mark 2 is superior to all of them. Although the tensions may be amplified on occasion, the writers never force the melodrama. Whilst the conclusions on occasion may seem far fetched to some, I believe they can all be explained with rational thought. I think this is at least partly due to the fact that every single member of the Skins writing team are young adults themselves, including the show runner. Skins is certainly not the product of a middle aged writer trying to reclaim memories of his lost youth. Every line of dialogue has a ring of truth.

Personally I have a soft spot for JJ, and not merely because of his disability. His struggles make sense to me not only because he often has trouble communicating with his peers, but also through his inability to find romance. Whilst there are elements of unresolved sexual tension amongst other cast members, JJ’s journey is perhaps the most rewarding because all viewers can relate to his feelings of isolation and loneliness. The episodes with JJ at its centre are unquestionably my two favourite episodes of the second generation.

Then there is Emily Finch. In so many ways Emily is a composite of so many girls I know. She has all the finest qualities that my best friend possesses, the feistiness, mixed with sensitivity. Yet Emily also reminds me of so many girls I’ve fallen for: where a smile can melt both my heart and my mind. Although prone to highly volatile emotional outbursts that too reminds me of girls I have fallen for, and not in a good way. Emily is the epitome of the realism I talk about when discussing
Skins. A complex, deeply flawed character who is positively endearing and who you wish was your friend or lover.

Any discussion of
Skins no doubt focuses on Effy and with good reason. Whilst she may be the most superficially appealing character, she is also the most complex. I don’t think you can ever quite get a read on Effy, particularly during the final episodes as the audience is left to wonder whether the character that we were initially introduced to was in fact her true self. The questions that are left unresolved with Effy have continued to plague my mind ever since the final episode aired.

To me the second generation of
Skins represents in the truest sense what it is like to be a young adult during the 21st century. Whilst naysayers decry my generation for lacking focus and purpose, Skins demonstrates both the good and bad characteristics of this era. Yes in some cases we are impulsive and foolhardy, but we like the Skins cast of emotional misfits are intelligent, engaging, and are built around the sense of positive energy generated from the power of friendship. The second generation may have just finished, but I’m sure its successor in the third generation of Skins will be just as good, perhaps even better, if that is possible.

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