Skins, "Tony": high school high speed coasting in Baltimore

Quick Take: Skins, "Tony"
In which we learn that teens like sex, drugs, and drum'n'bass.


Review: Skins, "Tony"
(S0101) MTV’s new dramatic series Skins is yet another remake of a UK show, joining a significant roster of new midseason arrivals including SyFy’s Being Human and Showtime’s Shameless. It might be a bit generous to call it a remake as it’s nearly an exact duplication of the premiere episode of its UK progenitor, just transplanting the action from Bristol to Baltimore. In fact, if you’ve seen the original debut there’s very little reason to tune in to the premiere of the new US edition due to its near shot-for-shot duplication. If you’re new to the concept, let’s get you caught up to speed.

The show centers on nine naughty teens coasting through high school with very little in the way of a moral compass. They don’t really have anything in common other than a general disregard for authority and conservative values. The first episode is entitled “Tony,” but grants enough screen time to all of the kids that we get a clear idea of their characters. Tony is the kind of good-looking, self-assured devil you hated but secretly admired in high school, able to get away with just about anything. He’s going out with the pretty but insecure Michelle, and he’s close friends with Stanley, an awkward virgin about to get a shot at changing his status thanks to Tony’s negotiations with Cadie, a mentally unstable young lass. Rounding out the core characters are Tea, the lesbian cheerleader, Chris, the id unleashed, Daisy, the bright musician, Eura, Tony's self-destructive younger sister, and Abbud, the Muslim treading a fine line between his friends and his strict, traditional family.

Among the hijinks that surface in the first episode: Tony sends Stanley to buy drugs from a very shady character, Chris makes a somewhat successful pass at one of his teachers, the gang infiltrates a boring party and takes it to the next level until Cadie ODs, then they top it all off by stealing an SUV and accidentally submerging it, losing a huge bag of weed in the process. So just another day with the Waltons more or less.

And there’s the rub: the show is sensationalistic for sure, but is it over the top in service to a genuinely strong story or is it just a ratings whore looking to entice MTV’s young target demographic with its lurid shenanigans? During the original UK run, it gradually became clear that there was a genuine heart to the show, that in spite of its focus on the seedy side of teen life it dealt in real emotions, unforgettable characters, and richly rewarding stories that were skillfully resolved by the end of its initial arc. Based on the identical debut here and the oversight by original creators Bryan Elsley and Jamie Brittain, it appears that MTV’s version will follow the same successful path.

Another big plus is the show’s casting. Unlike most teen shows, Skins calls for ACTUAL teens, and for the most part they are new, untrained actors, giving the proceedings a credibility and rawness that greatly enhances their stories. You can really feel the characters coming to grips with their situations since the actors are still living through their own high school days. The cast assembled for the US edition seems to be well-suited for their roles and worth following through the completion of their arcs. Wait, what? A brand new show with a predetermined expiration date for its star characters? Yes, if the show is a hit and MTV continues to follow the original model, the current cast will be put out to pasture at the end of the second season (with the exception Tony's younger sibling), allowing a new generation to take over. It’s incredibly risky but worked very well in the UK, giving way to my personal favorite season of all to date, the third overall and first with the replacement cast.

So is it worth watching? Yes, but only if you haven’t already seen the original. And even if you haven’t, at this point it appears that you could catch up with it and still know exactly how everything will turn out here. So if you can’t wait until next week to see episode two, just head to Netflix or similar avenue to watch the second episode of the original series. It’s really that identical so far.

I’m pleasantly surprised that MTV managed to pull off a competent and faithful translation of this project to our shores, but I’ll be much happier when they start to find their own way with it. Until then, I’m tuning out.

By Steve Geise

About the author

Reviewing for various magazines and websites since 2004.

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On: Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Eric - TV Geek Army "Revered Leader" said:

Steve, you had me with "id unleashed" in this review, love it !

I've noticed that with some of the UK --> US translations, the first few episodes are close translations before moving off in more original directions, and *most* often things don't get really good until that happens. 

I like the idea that MTV is bold enough to air a show about teens that isn't reflexively safe and redeeming i.e. someone smokes a joint and inevitably has to end up as a junkie or in rehab. At least I *hope* that's the direction. 

Look forward to checking this one out. 

On: Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Steve Geise said:

I'm hoping for some originality soon, but considering the identical plot framework and characters established in this episode it's difficult to imagine them deviating very far from the original course this season.

Yes, you're spot on about the direction as there will likely be many, many joints smoked this season with very little consequence. Skins is about as far from an After School Special as you can possibly get.


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