Skins: This is definitely not The O.C.

The teen drama has been a staple on major television networks. These shows, such as Beverly Hills 90210, Dawson’s Creek, The O.C. and Gossip Girl, focus on often ridiculous lives of angst-ridden teens (Dylan McKay, anyone?) and have rampant, sometimes cult-like followings. These shows rarely break from a standard mold-teenagers, who are probably romantically involved, have life-altering crises that are solved in 45 minutes or less. But occasionally a television show comes along that gives new light to a genre and changes television for the better. Skins, which premiered in the U.K. in 2008, is that teen drama and it makes Gossip Girl look like kindergarten.

Skins, which just broadcast its third season, follows a group of Bristol teens as they deal with life’s many problems. In seasons one and two the characters range from the popular but manipulative Tony to openly gay Maxxie-a rare characterization in teen dramas. Nothing is off limits in the series portrayal of teenage life-drugs, nudity, sex, drinking, you name it, Skins has shown it. The series depicts so much devious behavior, that Skins is censored in the United States.

Once you get past how much you see, Skins has depth that is unseen in any other teen drama. Instead of focusing on a dull love story (The O.C.), obscenely rich kids (Gossip Girl), or a quick-fix crisis (90210), Skins is short, sweet and to the point. Ten episodes, at most, make up a single season and each episode is dedicated to just one character. This not only allows for the show to have sharply written, interconnected plotlines, but also for the viewer to intimately know each character, which is practically unseen in American teen dramas. In Skins, when a character appears, even if only for second, that second always matters.

But above all, Skins is realistic, a concept Josh Schwartz, the creator of The O.C. and Gossip Girl, has probably never heard of. Season one episode, “Cassie,” is perhaps the most realistic and touching depiction of a young girl suffering from mental instability and an eating disorder. The evolution and maturation of lifelong friendships, and even sometimes how they end, are portrayed honestly. At the conclusion of series two, the gang opens their A-levels and go their separate ways. Rather than show what happens to these beloved characters and send them to the same university (a la Beverly Hills), their stories end. Like the friends you make in high school, we rarely or never hear about them again. For seasons three and four, new characters have been introduced and this pattern will continue as long as Skins is being aired.

For the most part, Skins features relatively unknown actors or first-time performers. One was Dev Patel, who recently starred in the mega-hit Slumdog Millionaire. For Slumdog fans, seeing Patel in his first role as the sex-crazed Anwar might be enough reason to watch Skins. But if you need more than an up-and-coming star to draw you in, just know that Skins is the best teen drama currently airing on television. It is as hysterically funny as it is captivating. By the end of season one, the characters will feel like your best friends, an admirable feat for any television series.

There is no telling what direction Skins will take next, but you certainly can’t go wrong if you spend a few hours with this exceptional teen drama.

Published: The Mount Holyoke News
April 30, 2009
Reprinted with permission

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