I have a weird relationship with the U.S./Canadian remake of Skins. On the one hand, I agree with almost every major criticism that’s been leveled against the show. It’s too indebted to the original without capturing that show’s spirit. The casting is wonky, with some actors doing really well in comparison to their original counterparts and others utterly failing to make an impression. The soundtrack can be overbearing (though I think this has been better handled in recent weeks). The copycat elements are often applied in a slapdash fashion, and the show can be awfully lazy. There’s that weird, alienating sense that the show takes place in a strange, empty nowhere that comes when American/Canadian co-productions try to obscure their Canadian roots, as though the show takes place in an endless For Better Or For Worse strip. (And how I long to hear Michelle call Tony a foob.) And, perhaps worst of all, the show has utterly misplaced the sense of humor the original had, choosing instead to aim for utter sincerity.
And yet as I watch every episode and tick off items on a list of things that just didn’t work, I eventually find myself won over by the end of the episode, even though I usually have a pretty good idea of how things are going to turn out. The only episode I’d wholeheartedly recommend was probably “Tea,” which came all the way back in week two, but I still find plenty to like in each and every hour the show produces. That includes tonight’s episode, “Daisy,” which is the latest in the show’s run to have mixed and matched so many elements from the show’s predecessor that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to tell where some stories come from, particularly for someone who hasn’t seen the original in a few years. Daisy’s still a musician (trumpet this time), and she’s still wise beyond her years (though, really, this applies to almost all of the characters) and battling a father still missing his long-gone wife. But something about this episode—like last week’s “Michelle” episode—just FEELS different, even if the surface-level story is mostly the same thing. (We’ll see how well the show’s training wheels approach to leaving the source material works next week, when it appears the show is entirely abandoning the original, at least for an episode.)
One thing I’ve noticed about the North American series is that it places far more emphasis on the relationship between the kids and their parents—or, at least, it feels like it does. I mean, Tony’s dad is still an old man who just doesn’t get it and yells endlessly at his son, but the other characters have all had at least a nice scene or two with the parents. Granted, a lot of these scenes are taken from the original, but they somehow feel more… sincere over here. I don’t know if that’s one of those things that is a necessity of putting on a show for a North American audience—I suspect that MTV wouldn’t have minded a show where the parents were all idiots and loons—or if it’s just something Bryan Elsley wanted to emphasize in this version or what. But I do like that little thread and the way it’s run throughout the season. The parents often seem ridiculous and inflexible, but after a while, they’re revealed to be haunted by emotions almost as strong as those their teenagers feel, only they don’t really have an outlet for them. (A good example of this is that final scene in the “Stanley” episode, which played off of the American affection for cars in interesting ways.)
It’s also possible that the sheer momentum of the premise, of getting to see into every single one of these kids’ lives, is just so all-encompassing and so involving that even a much, much worse show than this one would eventually become somewhat addictive. There’s a little rush at the end of each credits sequence when the character to be highlighted that week is featured—even if you’ve already read the episode title and know who it’s going to be—and the show’s “series of short stories that add up to a whole” format is endlessly watchable because it’s essentially a different show with a new cast of characters every week. (The same was true of the first season of Lost, which was one of the reasons it became so addictive so quickly.) This week, of course, delivered to us an episode about the last series regular we haven’t spent much time with, Daisy, based on Jal from the original. I still don’t buy that Daisy’s this important as one of the group’s centers—the strong, mother figure, if you will—but the episode did such a good job of making me believe she was that figure to her own family that I sort of retroactively believed it was true of the group of friends as well.
Camille Cresencia-Mills hasn’t greatly impressed me in the previous episodes, but, then, she also hasn’t had a ton to do. She was hit and miss here as well. In the scenes where she tried to bring all of the friends back together, she struggled with what the plot was demanding her character do, and it all seemed a little inorganic. But when she was hopping into bed with Abbud (and this was a nice showcase for Ron Mustafaa) and finding herself realizing what she needed to do with her audition money to fix her family, she played those moments very well. The U.S. Skins is, in some ways, a very small show, and it’s almost always the tiny moments that work. The original could go bigger. Most teen soaps like to play on a grand scale. But this Skins bucks against those trends, and it feels like the writers are slowly figuring that out.
Really, there’s not a lot to this episode that hasn’t been done before (and done better), either by this show or other teen shows. Daisy’s dad misses his wife and imposes strict conditions on his daughters because of it. Daisy has a dream that her father isn’t on board with until he is. Daisy takes the blame for her little sister after her little sister throws a party that spins out of control (and since Tony’s sister is there as well, we see the beginnings of perhaps a second generation of this show—should the ratings ever improve enough and the controversy ever lessen enough to get to that point). Two friends fall into bed and promise it won’t mean anything, but it’s easy to tell that it does. And yet the episode still works because the characters are treated with respect and dignity and because the script rarely lets them back down from a hard choice. Skins isn’t as good as what inspired it, no, but it’s a show that’s starting to find its own voice, and I hope it gets a little more time to do that.
- Meredith is singlehandedly making the world safe for democracy, so you get me this week. She’ll be back soon.
- I really hate scenes where someone walks away from an audition because I almost never buy it. Haven’t they worked for ages for this? Yet Skins made it work (again, retroactively) when you realize that what caused Daisy to walk wasn’t nerves—as the show wanted you to think—but the sound of the piano and the reminder of her father’s music.
- I also hate scenes where teenagers play with bands far beyond their level. Skins got away with this, I think, because it was revealed the band leader was Daisy’s teacher and had a connection to her dad from his jazz musician days.
- I’m always impressed with how subtle this show lets itself be. It doesn’t underline every point endlessly. Tonight, the notion that Daisy’s dad doesn’t like the radio on because he might hear her mom on it was pretty much a throwaway line, easy to miss if you weren’t listening for it.
- The jokes about Daisy blowing on her horn were juvenile but perfectly fit the characters nonetheless. (They are, after all, juvenile.)
- Storyline I just do not care about: the Tony/Stanley/Cadie/Michelle thing. Blah.
- Only two more episodes left! I’d ask for predictions, but well, there’s not really much of a reason to give them, is there?