MTV’s “Skins” has been billed as a shocking, scandalous, irresponsible television series that will corrupt our nation’s teens — the same teens who are busy having enough babies to sustain multiple seasons of “16 and Pregnant.” After watching the premiere on Monday night, it is clear the show is indeed exposing American teens to something they have in all likelihood never experienced before: British slang. What was most shocking about the pilot was how little effort the producers made to actually adapt the series to reflect American culture. Like the U.S. adaptation of “Shameless,” it was essentially a shot for shot remake of the first episode of the British series, resulting in an often perplexing and inauthentic translation.
It starts with the title, which the pilot’s penultimate scene makes somewhat clear is a reference to rolling papers, not nubile teenage skin. Perhaps the series should be called Zig Zag — which would actually be a great, evocative name for a teen series. A rich girl talks about how everyone at her party will be, “getting retarded on drum and bass.” There are certainly some American teens who are into drum and bass, but it’s a music genre that is far more popular in England. A privileged teen throwing a wild party would be more likely to listen to hip hop, or, given that the series seems to be set in an uncool suburb, Scene music. There’s a subculture which has yet to be explored on television. These are but two examples of inaccurate slang and references.
Despite it’s TV-MA rating, the pilot featured little that was truly unsuitable for people under the age of 18. The swearing was bleeped out, though it was easy to read the actors lips. There was no nudity. There was a lot of talk about drugs, and a giant baggie of weed, but little on-camera drug use. There were raunchy lines of dialogue. The episode’s main character, Tony, told his hapless friend Stanley that he was going to help him lose his virginity by saying, “Tonight we present Mr. Happy with the keys to the furry city.” This begs an equally vulgar question: would an American teenage boy in 2011, who has spent countless hours streaming porn and is familiar with grooming trends, use the adjective “furry”? Isn’t that a little retro?
In fact, the plot of a guy desperately attempting to lose his virginity by an arbitrary date is hardly original. It’s the premise of everything from “American Pie” to Tom Cruise’s terrible first movie, “Losin’ It.” Stanley needs to procure drugs for the party in order to get the craziest girl at school to sleep with him. That’s “Superbad” with drugs instead of alcohol. Ultimately, he turned down his shot at sex because he’s in love with another girl. That’s downright wholesome.
The show also features such cliches of teen dramas as a bitchy cheerleader (yes, she’s a lesbian, but Santana and Brittany from “Glee” have arguably broken that ground), a boy with a crush on his attractive teacher, and a rivalry between a private school and a public school. Even the edgiest moments — Stanley’s trip to a brothel, Tony and Michelle’s casual discussion of how they plan to use toys to enhance their sexual encounter, are just cruder versions of scenes from “Gossip Girl” and “Degrassi.” In fact, given the Canadian accents of much of the cast, the obviously inexperienced actors, and what any veteran viewer of cheaply produced television shows will recognize as Canadian locations, the whole series feels like “Degrassi” minus the preachy moralizing.
The show does succeed on one level. It captures the way teens see the world. All of the adults are buffoons. The characters relationships with their friends are the most important aspects of their lives, far more meaningful than any temporary romantic pairing. They have the conviction that no one has ever partied as hard as them, been as cool as them or suffered as much pain as they have. Every experience feels imbued with great significance because it is all new. They are asserting their individuality in ways that will make them cringe in a decade. They’re simultaneously miserable and having the time of their lives. That’s an entertaining, compelling story, but, sorry Parents Television Council, it’s far from the most dangerous teen show in history.