Brief introduction to Skins

Skins is a British teen drama that follows the lives of a group of teenagers in Bristol, South West England, through the two years of sixth form. Each episode generally focuses on a particular character and the struggles they face in their life. The episodes are named after the featured character. The show was created by father-and-son television writers Bryan Elsley and Jamie Brittain for Company Pictures and premiered on E4 on 25 January 2007. The show went on to be a critical success as well as a ratings winner
within its target demographic. (nicked from wikipedia)


Skins – The 10 Year afterparty

There are some things in life that are completely timeless and some things that do age. The Skins TV series is an exception; it is timeless in concept, but now after 10 years since the first season was broadcast, you can see that some of it’s motifs are somewhat charmingly dated. But before I go into that, let me tell you what i’m going to talk about today.

‘Skins’ was undoubtedly a cultural phenomenon and at the time was a ground breaking series. With it being the 10th anniversary of the show in 2017, I have gone back and re-watched the first series (part binge-watching/part article research) on Netflix and i’m currently watching my way through the “second generation” (series 3 & 4) for my own personal enjoyment. I wanted to look in-depth about what ‘Skins’ was about and write a critical analysis of the show.

For this article I have chosen to focus on the “first generation” (series 1 & 2) because I’m sure that most people would agree with me when I say, they were the best. Although the “second generation” stories hold great entertainment value (and we shan’t talk about the shambles that was the “third generation”) I feel that the characters and storylines were repeated to some extent from the first.

So let me take you back ten years ago to 2007. It first came to our TV screens in a brilliant mixture of colour and noise via a promotional trailer that now lives infamy. The same trailer also subsequently, put an unknown indie electro rock band Gossip into the limelight with their song  ‘Standing in the Way of Control’.

The series is named after the slang term for “Tobacco” rolling papers, so it was clear from the outset that the show was going to be fairly loose when it came to its view on drugs and partying. This is one of the elements that really set it apart from other dramas at the time. The carefree aesthetic matched the characters attitude within the programme perfectly and audiences loved it.

The usage of drug references made the stories closer to reality in a time where young adult audiences were more culturally aware of party drugs and had started to experiment with them more than their parents had. In a case where life imitates art (and vice versa) it wasn’t long until “Skins parties” started to pop up around the UK. The mainstream media spun these as a new moral panic, whereas other independent magazines treated these parties as a “sign of change” in the UK party scene.

It wasn’t long until the television programme organised its own “skins party” (above…and so the “art imitates life” circle is complete) as a special promotional short for series two. This idea has since been imitated in music, but more importantly in film. ‘Project X‘ is really just Skins condensed into 88 minutes of play time and localised around a house party rather than an entire city. The idea of the “Skins party” still lives on in the minds of the youth today, except now it is known as “The Sesh“; unadulterated gatherings, to party for the sake of partying.

As much as the above was a key part of the show’s success, there are many other elements that contributed to the overall appeal of the programme. The obvious thing that audiences will notice that like all good dramas, each character experiences very real situations within the episodes. In the first two series the show tackled themes such as abandonment & homelessness and then sickness & death with Chris’ storyline (breaks my heart watching S2E9). It shed light on mental illnesses and eating disorders with Cassie. It dealt with the pressures of teenage pregnancy (Jal) in the second series.

It also approaches sexuality and religion (Maxxie and Anwar) in one bizarre episode that takes place in Russia (S1E6), it does this without really straying away from it being a teenage drama, also keeping a regular flow of comedy within that episode. When looking at friendships, in some episodes the programme insinuates that they are a close nit group meeting on the local college green regularly. (however through trials and tribulations, the foundations of this group are tested i.e. when Tony and Michelle break up). But sometimes it focuses on pairs; Cassie & Michelle, Jal & Chris (who’s friendships transcends into an amorous relationship, yet another subject covered, vis-à-vis love).

The most important friendship would be Tony & Sid’s. Their friendship changes frequently, demonstrating various emotions (love, hate, jealousy, etc) in doing so. But ultimately they have a brotherly bond, evidence of this comes in the form of Tony’s final words to Sid; “I always loved you the best Sid”. Love is strong subject within the programme as we have touched upon already, however there is a certain amount of lust within the programme also. Sex sells and ‘Skins’ has plenty of soft references to it, such as Chris and Angie (having sex with a teacher fantasy). The very first episode is even in someways devoted to the “losing of Sid’s cherry” with both hilarious and unbelievable consequences. All of the above contributed to those high ratings I think.

The most important factor in all of these teenage tales is that they are presented in the point of view of a typical teenager. This factor is clearly shown when the parents of the characters are involved in episodes. Each parent is presented as a bit clueless and uninterested in their children, each more focused on dealing with problems of their own. Occasionally there is some unity between the children and the parents, (e.g Sid and his dad gaining some mutual respect for each other in S2E3). This hint at parent and child relationships is the most relatable part of the programme, something all audiences of all ages can empathise with on some level.

I said at the start of this article that Skins is charmingly dated. I mean this as a compliment only as respect to the show that I love. Obviously, with it being filmed in 2007, the clothes that the characters wear in the show have changed, fashion like life changes every year. Secondly much like fashion, the music has changed. The House revival of 2011/12 once again brought “raving” into the mainstream, so the idea of going to a secret rave that Skins first presented to us back in 2007 is no longer an unfamiliar one.

But I remember the music from both the first and second series and at the time how it inspired me. I discovered bands like Crystal Castles (S2E3) and listened to artists like Tricky (S1E5). It introduced me to music that I had never heard before and in some ways bridged the gap between bands and dance music in some ways. This is what I mean by it’s charmingly dated, you can look back on the entire series and smile with a sense of nostalgia, as the characters and stories remind you of a certain time (For myself, my teenage years) 10 years ago.

Thank you, Skins.


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