Writing about Skins from week to week, I must confess something that is making me uncomfortable: I am beginning to feel a little like Andy Rooney. These are the thoughts going through my mind at any given moment: Do we really need this music constantly droning in the background? Why do these kids always mumble? Is everyone these days bisexual? When do these kids study? Can’t they brush their hair out of their faces? Where are their parents, anyway? They should be locked up! I’ll tell you, when I was a teenager back in the ‘90s, things were so different! Why is my desk so messy all the time? Grrrrr!!!
It’s not even that I object so much to the show’s prurient content. It’s just that I don’t see what else the show really has to offer other than titillation. I try to put my 15-year-old goggles on, and I tend to think I’d still be complaining like Andy Rooney, probably even more so. This week, Skins follows Stan, the slackery stoner (or is it a stonery slacker?), who, inexplicably, prefers the blah Michelle over doe-eyed Cadie. (Oh right, I forgot: Michelle has boobs.) Stan is played by Daniel Flaherty, one of the better young actors on this show, though sometimes it’s hard to tell, what with all the hair. Flaherty is definitely an alumnus of the Michael Cera School of Acting, but on this show, I'll take what I can get. When he’s on screen, I am, at least, momentarily free of the feeling of impending doom that seizes me whenever Tony shows up (more on this later).
In some ways, this episode felt a lot more like your standard high school comedy, relying as it did on Hughesian teenage hijinks—car wrecks, skipping classes, sleeping all day long. But I think this came at the expense of some of the ennui. In particular, Stan’s relationship with his parents felt underdeveloped. In the British series, Sid’s father is played by the sublimely potty-mouthed Peter Capaldi, who curses with the same breathtaking regularity as he did in In the Loop. Unfortunately, the U.S. version has toned down this role. Stan’s father yells a lot and he’s a bit of a buffoon—nice bike shorts, clown!—but he’s not as much of a bitter, lonely old bastard. We also barely see Stan’s parents interacting with one another, so when his mother leaves, it’s not like we care.
Still, if this had been an episode only about Stan, it might have been alright, maybe even pretty good. The biggest problem with this episode—and, yes, the entire series—is Tony, but I probably didn’t need to tell you that. Here’s where I get all curmudgeonly: What on earth were the executives at MTV thinking casting James Newman in this part? Even on a basic physical level, Newman is wrong. He's short and scrappy, when he should be tall, dreamy, and intimidating. It’s an important difference. American Tony is just an insecure little dude with a Napoleon complex and an unrequited crush on a lesbian. This makes him far less interesting than Nicholas Hoult’s Tony, whose malevolence had more mysterious origins. It’s also hard to believe that Stan would blindly follow his orders, or that Tony could exert a Jedi-like power of seduction over Michelle. (Baffled by this casting choice, I did some Googling and discovered that Newman attended the prestigious St. Ann’s School in Brooklyn, Paz De La Huerta’s alma mater; apparently the place is just lousy with bad actors.)
It pains me to be so unkind to someone so young, but Newman’s presence onscreen actually makes me nervous. It’s a bit like what happens when I watch ice-skating in the Olympics: My whole body tenses up, in anticipation of a fall. If only for my own sake, I hope that he’ll land safely, but it rarely happens. Newman delivers nearly every line in the same monotone, and there’s virtually no discernable difference in his facial expression from one scene to the next, whether he’s asking a question, sucking up to Stan’s dad, or ordering Stan to hook up with Michelle. He also never seems to know what to do with his features once he’s delivered a line, which only heightens the already stilted dialogue. You can almost hear Newman thinking to himself, “OK, you said the words. Now close your mouth and blink.” His stiff body language doesn't help much, either. Needless to say, would-be funny lines about “marijuana cigarettes” are well beyond Newman’s reach. This, at least, might not be entirely Newmans’s fault. I can’t think of a single comedic situation that’s really worked on this version of Skins (failed attempts from this episode include Cadie's rehab center, the fight between Michelle and Tabitha, the "tripping balls on life" speech). In spite of all the MTV trappings, this show is simply too lifeless to sustain comedy; it dies on the vine.
- What's with all the bleeped curses? I know teenagers curse, and maybe MTV is going for a little verisimilitude, censors be damned, but the self-conscious bleeping in this episode really got distracting.
- This version of Skins is supposed to be set in Baltimore, but it was shot in Toronto; no one ever mentions Ravens or the Os, nor do they address each other as "hon." This is just lazy writing.
- What was with the vaguely post-apocalyptic daytime party at the Lagoon of Sexy Teens? Also, the Air Force Base that any old teenager can drive through?