B-

Skins: "Chris"

Remember back in the ‘90s? When kids were stuck home alone, all they had to worry about was a bunch of clumsy cat burglars. Things were so much more innocent back then, weren’t they?  Nowadays, the stakes are much higher. Mom leaves town for a few days and next thing you know, you’re waking up in a mattress covered in sick and fending off the anarchist squatter sleeping in your bathtub. If Skins is an accurate reflection of today’s teenagers, then I’ll be the first to admit it: Kids these days sure do have it rough.

On tonight’s episode of The Most Irresponsible Television Show Ever Made, Chris’ mother splits town, leaving him $1000 in an envelope with a hastily scrawled note on the front: “Gone for a few days. Be good. Mom.” Chris promptly blows the loot on beer, pizza, “boner pills,” and a giant stereo. (A stereo? Maybe things haven’t changed that much since 1993 after all.)  After throwing a rager at his house, Chris descends into a drug-fueled haze of indeterminate length and awakens to find his fish dead, his toilet gone, and his house uninhabitable. Chris is utterly alone in the world—he’s cast out of his house without so much as a shred of clothing—and he turns to Tina, his teacher/love interest for help. She offers him a spare room in her apartment where he can stay temporarily. Meanwhile, Daisy takes Chris to see his dad, and we discover that Chris’s hard-partying ways mask some dark secrets from his past—namely, a dead brother named Peter. 

Last week’s episode, which followed sexy-lesbian-cheerleader Tea, was an abrupt departure from the UK Skins, and, in my opinion, the experimentation yielded mixed results. Tonight's episode, like the pilot, was yet another near shot-for-shot remake of the original, but here’s the weird thing: I didn’t hate it. In fact, of the show’s three episodes, I think this may have been the best so far. Maybe it’s just that the shock and dismay over this (mostly) ill-advised adaptation is wearing off. I'm sure that’s part of it, but I’ve got a few other theories.

It’s safe to say that the biggest problem with MTV's Skins is the acting, which so far has ranged from mesmerizingly bad to slightly better than adequate. The most egregious offenders are James Newman as Tony and Britne Oldford as Cadie, neither of whom featured prominently in this episode, so maybe that's why it worked relatively well. Coming into this week, I was also skeptical that Jesse Carere could ever be as compelling or charismatic as Joseph Dempsie, who played the original Chris with a manic charm reminiscent of a young Ewan McGregor. His Chris was a hot mess but—at the risk of ending up in a future episode of To Catch a Predator—you can kind of see why his teacher would want to sleep with him. Now, I won't be declaring an inappropriate crush on Jesse Carere anytime soon, but I was pleasantly surprised with his performance tonight. He’s got a wobbly voice that seems weirdly perfect for his character; it's like he's there, but never quite there. In the pivotal scene from tonight's episode—the one in which Chris tells Daisy about his dead brother, Peter—Carere thawed my cynical heart ever so slightly. He does the emo bit alright, but he hasn't got the comic panache. To wit, the scene in which he bursts out of his mother's armoire should have been funny, but it fell flat.

Come to think of it, this seems to be true of the US adaptation as a whole: it’s okay at the drama (see also: the scene with Tea and her grandmother from last week), but the jokes rarely land. This could be because of the limitations of the cast, or the difficulty of translating comedy from one culture to another, or some combination thereof. Still, some jokes—like Chris' wild erection pee—transcend national differences.

Another theory as to why I kinda-sorta like this episode is that it’s based on one of the strongest installments of the original series. The first episode of UK Skins was one of its weakest. It was basically American Pie with accents and more drugs. The show didn't get interesting until subsequent episodes, and I'd expect that this adaptation will follow the same trajectory. It probably can't ever match the original, but, at its best, it can come close. Tonight's episode was at least a worthy imitation of the original. It begins with slapstick potty humor, veers into domestic melodrama, then lands squarely back in raunchy teen-comedy territory. That's a lot of ground to cover in 40 minutes, and the fact that Skins almost made these wild tonal shifts work gives me a faint glimmer of hope for future episodes.

Chris’s mother is the first adult to actually pick up and leave, but her departure is symbolic of a larger parental void on this show. Mostly, the parental absence is a convenient narrative excuse for all the late-night carousing going on, but if this show has any message at all, it’s that these kids seem to be on their own in the world. In response to criticism of the show, MTV has argued that Skins has a positive, anti-drug message. This, frankly, is bullshit. Sure, the kids all have to deal with some kind of consequences from their drug and alcohol use, but this is not exactly an After School Special we’re dealing with here. Mostly, it’s depressing that literally all they ever talk about is weed, pills, sex, nipples, or masturbation—what, haven’t they heard of video games?  The problem isn't how much they're drinking or having sex; it's that seems to be all they care about.  Still, this is one episode that MTV might be able to claim has a responsible message, even if it’s one aimed at parents rather than kids: Abandon your teens and they’ll descend into drug-fueled mania. No, it’s not exactly Ozzie and Harriet, but it’s something.

Oh and one last thing, I watched a press screener of this episode, which included a scene in which Chris shows a little kid how to roll a joint.  This scene appears to have been excised from the final edit.

Filed Under: TV, Skins

More TV Club