On January 25th 2007, a generation of teens – and everyone else – were introduced to Skins; A rebellious show about the real(ish) lives of teenagers in Britain. Featuring a young and talented cast of mostly unknown actors playing characters of their age, Bryan Elsley and Jaime Brittain had created a new phenomenon. Not only did people know someone like the characters, some you wanted to be, others you were, which made the show so relatable to teens at the time. The storylines wound themselves around one (or two) characters per episode as their adolescence peaked and they loved, lied and smoked their way through sixth form college. Controversially for some, this show depicted the semi-realistic lives of teens coming of age in all its sexual, drug induced, self-aware mayhem.
Titled Skins, after the rolling papers used for cigarettes, creators Brian Elsley and Jamie Brittain had no qualms about showing the most extreme yet possible things that young people could get up to. While technology was just beginning to really boom into the social tool it is today, simply having you’re own mobile meant that you could contact your friends without your parents even knowing about it and, for example, have a massive house party.
Series 1-2 aka First Generation
In the premiere episode ‘Tony’, the titular character is played by Nicholas Hoult (About A Boy, X-men: First Class). He takes the lead as the overconfident charmer among his friends to get his best friend laid at a house party he’s got them all invited to. Through each characters journey to the party, we get to see what kind of people they are – from Tony’s too cool and pretty girlfriend Michelle (April Pearson), lusty virgin best friend Sid (Mike Bailey) and mentally broken Cassie (Hannah Murray), to one of the first in a new generation of gay teens represented on TV, dancer Maxxie (Mitch Hewer), wannabe playboy and Muslim, Anwar and all round loveable pill head, Chris. And that’s just the main cast!
Odd and extreme side characters are everywhere, including the parents who are played by a great selection of comedians including Harry Enfield and Bill Bailey. Having these established actors adds a certain legitimacy to the show that can only have helped it to be both comical as well as meaningful. While all of the characters know how to have a good time, like most teenagers do, we’re still given an insight into the turmoil that goes on in every pubescent child’s head as they hit potentially the most transformative period of their lives. Making decisions about further education, gets mixed with relationships with parents, as well as issues such as anorexia, religion and sexuality.
The show is perfect at not preaching about how kids, parents and teachers should be dealing with these issues but uses this medium to discuss it in a realistic way with limited resolution, because truthfully you don’t solve all your teen problems, fear and insecurities in two years before you go to University. Nothing is ever wrapped up that neatly.
The first two series are arguable the best, not surprisingly really as it’s hard to recreate the same wonderful dynamic between writers and cast for a second generation of people.
Series 3-4 aka Second Generation
The choice to completely change the cast of Skins, expect Effy (Kaya Scoldelario), could be seen as a risky choice when the characters were so loved but the series’ purpose is to represent a particular age in life and so finding a new group of young actors to symbolize their generation makes sense.
This new series takes on more young writers, such as Daniel Kaluuya, to really get the voice of the generation being depicted. The second generation is bridged by the character Effy, who is probably the most troubled young person in the entire series. She’s known for breaking the forth wall, as well as being essentially silent for the first series. Her character becomes the leader of the new generation and is frequently the catalyst for drama amongst the group, often unintentionally. Effy is the star of this season but she’s backed up by another great cast of young people, who as actors show a willingness to do anything and everything in the name of TV.
These two series continue to explore the effect of narcotics on teens, sexuality, what fame means, families and the dangers of the wider world. Overall, they have a darker tone and a more hopeless group of people are left by the end as the group divides into those who get sucked into Effy’s breakdown, manipulated by a dark figure, and those who set about moving on with their lives and try to leave their teenage selves behind.
There are a further two series of the show featuring a third generation but it’s very much a stand alone generation that isn’t impacted by the first two. The writing is harmed by, it seems, having two many young writers, meaning the series becomes too much about the big dramatic moments and less about the people involved.
Catching up on the first four series now will set you up for series 7, the likely final series of Skins entitled, Skins Redux. Presented as three special episodes focusing on first generation character Cassie, generation bridge Effy and second generation fan favourite Cook in their own episodes titled – Skins Pure, Skins Fire and Skins Rise, which shows the characters as they are in the present day.
Series 7 premieres on July 1st 2013.