Was it just me, or was Skins about three hours long tonight? I’m kidding, of course, but there was something especially listless about this episode, and on a show that’s already lacking in vitality, that’s an issue. To some extent, the low-energy vibe was intentional. After all, this was the “Cadie” episode, in which we dive into the world of the pill-popping, saucer-eyed waif who’s perpetually on the brink of catatonia. Still, I wonder how much this show would be improved if it were only half as long.
In the U.K. version of Skins, Cadie is “Cassie,” played by Hannah Murray. Her character is fond of pills, to be sure, but her most salient feature, so to speak, is her anorexia. Cassie’s in and out of a clinic where she sews weights into her shirt and where fellow patients guzzle gallons of water immediately before weigh-ins. This is all played for laughs, in a politically incorrect way that, it seems, only the British can get away with. Watching the original, I delighted in its irreverence towards the subject of eating disorders. Could an American show get away with this sort of political incorrectness? It seemed riskier than the sex or the drugs. Naturally, MTV’s Skins has all but eliminated the anorexia references—in the pilot, we saw Cadie building food sculptures, which is way less funny if you don’t know why she’s doing it—and opted instead to give Cadie a the very American problem of over-medication. She’s afraid of living without pills. Oh yeah, pigeons freak her out, too. All eating disorder-related hilarity aside, it is unfortunate that MTV has opted to portray Cadie as "unhappy" in such a nebulous way. I understand they're going for overall malaise rather than a specific malady, but it feels trite—angsty girl, medicine cabinet full of meds, mean parents. You know the drill.
As Cassie, Murray was dizzy, radiant, and heartbreaking all at once. Britne Oldford, who plays Cadie, has opted for a more literal approach to the character, playing her in a sort of monotonous stupor. I’ll refrain from belaboring this point too much, because comparing this to the U.K. version is just cruel at this point. But, if you’ll indulge me, there’s an analogy to be made. Cadie is to Cassie as U.S. Skins is to U.K. Skins. In other words, replace the zany comedy with some lumbering, listless drama, and you’ve pretty much got it. It’s easy to see why the folks at MTV cast Oldford, with her sinewy limbs and hypnotically sad eyes (seriously, she looks like a Margaret Keane painting, doesn’t she?), but it’s too bad she doesn’t have more comedic abilities. Sure, there were moments tonight when her performance worked, but, all too often, it’s impossible to tell whether her affectless delivery is a conscious creative decision—or merely the result of her limitations as an actor.
One thing that this episode did effectively convey is Cadie’s social isolation. She’s disconnected from her peers, lost in a haze induced by some combination of anxiety, self-loathing, and pills. There were lots of unexplained loose ends—Who are all these doctors, exactly? What’s this about Cadie’s dad dying? Did she really shoot him?—but this messiness actually felt somewhat intentional, as if to illustrate Cadie’s disconnect from the world around her (even if I am still left wondering about her father.)
To be fair, I’d want to disconnect, too. Cadie’s mother is an aging beauty queen (who looked about 30, tops), and her father is a hunting and taxidermy enthusiast, and they both take more interest in each other than in their daughter. Here’s yet another example of how the arch tone of the original doesn’t quite work in translation: Cadie’s mother just seems like a ridiculous and unfunny caricature, and her father is reduced to a single quirk. (In U.K. Skins, the grown-ups were one-dimensional, but this absurdity felt deliberate, as if we were seeing a version of the parents through their kid’s eyes.)
Her social life is not much better. She’s also got a crush on Stan, who’s too busy brushing his hair into his face and ogling Michelle to realize that Cadie’s the real knockout. Yes, Cadie’s crush on this little towhead is inexplicable, but so are virtually all high school crushes. (Side note: what are the chances that Stan actually has horrible burn marks covering the entire right side of his face, and that once Cadie discovers them, he’ll drag her down into his foggy subterranean lair?) Oddly, I find Cadie’s misguided feelings for Stan to be one of the more convincing aspects of this series: She’s not actually having sex with Stan, but just pretending that she is makes Cadie feel close to him. Cadie shows up at Michelle’s party, all dolled-up an adorable pink dress, but Stan is too busy sniffing Michelle’s teddy bears to notice the gazelle-like Lisa Bonet-lookalike throwing herself at him.You know how it is, right, guys? Tea tells Cadie that Stan only invited her because of her pills, and Cadie retaliates by hooking-up with Michelle’s predatory step-dad—only minutes after rebuffing his hot-tub advances. It was gross, to be sure, but there was something about Cadie's desperate advances that, sadly, felt way more accurate than most other things on this show.