A skinful of stereotypes

E4's new teen drama Skins is, unfortunately, all it's cracked up to be: teen TV made by a committee of teenagers.

Emily Hill

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‘We had plans, Sid,’ yells Tony, walking quickly across a Bristol bridge with nine calls on hold, and an eighth of Mongolian skunk zipped up inside a paperback copy of Jean Paul Sartre’s Nausea in his back pocket. ‘Concerning your cock? Wake up you dozy fuck.’ Tony rings Anwar, his Muslim friend. Anwar’s in a prayer meeting and gets ejected for taking a phone call. ‘Cheers Tone,’ says Anwar, ‘my Uncle wants to stone me to death now.’ ‘No he doesn’t’ says Tony, doing this sort of winking and sneering thing to camera. ‘Your uncle’s lovely.’

In between, Tony phones his clarinet-playing black friend, his gay tap dancing friend, his quirky, going-to-have-an-affair-with-his-teacher friend and his hot new girlfriend. ‘Hey Nips,’ bellows Tony. ‘Stop calling me Nips, Tony, my nipples aren’t that funny,’ she says, rubbing cocoa butter slowly into her nubile young thighs. ‘Okay, okay,’ she concedes, ‘I’ll help you with Sid.’

Hallelujah! Welcome to the ‘groundbreaking’ new teen drama Skins, which is written by teenagers, for teenagers, featuring teenagers, soundtracked by teenagers, part-styled by teenagers, marketed to teenagers, and advised by a team of teenage consultants, who were on-hand to ‘verify the realism of the weed deals etc’. Skins finally debuts tonight on Channel 4’s entertainment off-shoot E4 after a great deal of hype on MySpace and on ad teasers, featuring young people pilled up and vomiting.

The first episode focuses in on Tony, and introduces us to his eclectic group of ethnically mixed, psychologically disordered and regionally accented friends, and their efforts to present geeky Sid’s ‘Mr Happy’ with ‘the keys to the furry city’. Along the way they trek off to a surburban brothel to score three ounces of weed from a drug dealer with a gigantic handle bar moustache called ‘Mad Twatter’, go to a party to sell it, fail, OD on too much trampolining, steal a car, lose the weed, drive said car into a river with them all inside – all in the name of getting the ‘skins’ out of Tony’s back pocket.

My initial problem with the programme was that for epic stoners they never look stoned, for champion drinkers they never look drunk and for chronic party crashers they never look hungover. But I see this was my mistake and there’s now evidence on MySpace to prove otherwise.

Now my problem is the very notion of the show being written by a committee of teenagers for teenagers, helped by a barrage of teenage marketing strategy, as if teenagers aren’t capable of seeing through the whole whingey, middle-class bleating about suppressed ’emotions’ that the programme proudly promises to present. In episode one, Cassie the hippy-ish, pilled-up anorexic with the big heart, kindly offers to help Sid lose his virginity. But Sid digs Michelle aka Nips, Tony’s girl with the nice legs. Cassie tells Sid that ‘Shell knows all about it. To which Sid replies, ‘What would you do if everything was so fucked up and you just don’t know what to do?’

‘I would stop eating until they take me away to hospital,’ Cassie replies.

Oh dear. Isn’t it funny how a teen drama written by a committee with an average age of 22 has managed to trot out such a conventional, unimaginative view of teenage life – with attendant drug issues and eating disorder. As If without the flashy cutting. The characters, so far, flick up as the same old stereotypes: the savvy teen, the Muslim teen, the gay teen, the hot teen, the posh teen, the crazy fucked-up teen, the teen with image problems, the geeky teen with the glasses who’s had ‘virgin’ scrawled in black marker pen on his forehead…

As MySpace promises, they ‘get high, get drunk, get laid and get up for their A-levels’. And that’s about it. Prepare to run the gamut of everything it (apparently) means to be a teenager. Grange Hill goes primetime, only without the school uniforms. It seems that, in TV producers’ minds, we’re all bored teens now.

Skins debuts on 25 January on E4.

Skins microsite, Channel 4

Skins page, MySpace

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