April 4, 2011

"Skins" and All the Pretty Young Things

Grace (Jessica Sula), Franky (Dakota Blue Richards), Rich (Alex Arnold), Alo (Will Merrick) from the fifth series of Skins.

Few things make me feel older than watching -- and enjoying -- Skins. The British teen drama, which began in 2007, follows a group of teenagers living in Bristol and attending sixth form college (for students around 16 to 18). Each episode focuses on a different character, and each season (or series, as the Brits call it) contains a compact 8 to 10 episodes, wherein the kids drink, drug, party, and fall in love.

Alex Arnold plays metalhead Rich, while Freya Mavor does a nuanced take on the Queen Bee character as Mini.

It’s a balancing act -- maintaining a certain emotional authenticity while amping up the storylines past the point of credibility -- but that is the essence of the show’s appeal. The carefully established character archetypes are brought to life through spot-on casting, a lovingly curated soundtrack that suits each character, and genius wardrobe stylists. For teenagers, it’s a rare teen show that has no condescending undertones, for adults it’s eye candy escapism, and for concerned parents it’s a nightmare.


Dakota Blue Richards (in blue as the androgynous Franky) has the most acting experience out of the current cast.

This authenticity is enhanced by the the show's conceit of keeping its cast for only two years (until the characters graduate from college) and hiring true blue teenagers with little or no acting experience. In the first two series, experienced actors like Nicholas Hoult (About a Boy, A Single Man) worked alongside unknowns who more than held their own, and the show even found a breakout star in Dev Patel, who went on to star in Slumdog Millionaire.

A then 14-year-old Kaya Scodelario as the mysterious Effy.

On the other hand, the show went wayward in the third and fourth series with the second generation cast when the storylines turned into a dark slog that left the actors floundering. It was disappointing to see gorgeous Kaya Scodelario, who had minimal lines but brooded alluringly for four series as the troubled Effy, fall short when her storyline required her to be something more. (But some hope: she will be seen next in Andrea Arnold’s adaptation of Wuthering Heights, a director who got a memorable performance out of first-time actor Katie Jarvis in her previous film, Fish Tank.)

Matty (Sebastian De Souza) and Liv (Laya Lewis).

The current fifth series (with a third generation of actors) seems to have gone back to the show’s roots, with a surer hand in guiding its characters, and episodes displaying a nice balance of darkness and light. (Perhaps the storylines were written to fit in better with each actor’s range.) But enough dissection: just enjoy the images of pretty teenagers going through both the best and worst time of their lives.

 Rich and Allo. Check out the man leggings and the knit vest with snowmen.

 Grace, a kooky ballerina who has great vintage-inspired style.

Mini and her walk of shame.

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