By April Wood
Honestly, was anyone terribly surprised when they heard MTV had debuted an ultra-controversial new series starring unrealistically attractive teenagers who get drunk, have sex, pop pills and crash SUVs into rivers?
MTV shows “Teen Mom” and “Jersey Shore” — hardly pillars of moral example-setting — were running ad nauseam on the network. “Jersey Shore” garnered record-breaking ratings for the channel and skyrocketed its decidedly non-star-worthy stars to mega-fame for no apparent reason other than their ability to get drunk, have sex and curse like a pack of sailors on steroids.
This jaded consumer of trash culture wasn’t hedging her bets that new barriers of shock entertainment were going to be crossed by “Skins”, an American version of the British drama of the same name that made its U.S. premiere on Jan. 24.
When I reluctantly tuned in via MTV.com several weeks into the show’s run, however, I was pleasantly surprised to find my mouth frozen into the lock-jaw position for a good duration of my viewership as I witnessed innovative displays of depravity by the show’s cast of nine major characters.
Take Tea for instance, a 16-year-old lesbian whose extracurricular activities include casually swigging from airplane bottles of vodka during passing period, masturbating to her Audrey Hepburn poster and drunkenly vomiting off the side of a playground merry-go-round in broad daylight. She then nonchalantly cleanses her pallet by gargling from her fifth
of vodka and goes back for another spin.
And she’s hip too. Instead of getting down to Katy Perry and Lil’ Wayne at the school dance, Tea’s idea of a good time is sneaking into 21-plus Northern Soul dance parties to cruise for casual sex. Not the most believable character quirk for a 16-year-old perhaps, but kudos to the writers for portraying a high schooler with alternative cultural interests, anyway.
Another member of the show’s rotating set of protagonists is Chris, a young man with such an extreme case of party fever he becomes forced to conceal a 15-hour-long erection with duct tape after an overzealous night of Viagra and ecstasy consumption. Chris even dabbles in an experimental diet for his goldfish, attempting to sustain them on marijuana and upper pills (the fish do not “sustain” for very long).
He is also in love with his suspiciously young-looking teacher Tina. When Chris is abandoned by his single mother and rejected by his extended family (one of the show’s attempts at addressing serious issues), Tina opens up her home to him for a night and presents him with a gift of a new goldfish, swimming around in a glass of water.
Chris promptly snoops through Tina’s bedside table and pops one of her oral contraceptive pills, washing it down with the goldfish’s swimming water.
Any of this sound like an accurate reflection of your teenage years? Not exactly? Well, as clearly sensationalized a version of the teen experience “Skins” is, the Parents Television Council is up in arms over its portrayal of underage heathenism, labeling it the “most dangerous show for teens.” The PTC has even accused “Skins” of violating child pornography laws and is urging the government to take legal action to ban the show.
Feeling threatened by the media controversy sparked by the PTC’s smear campaign, nine of “Skins” sponsors had pulled their ad campaigns by the third week of the show’s airing. To add insult to MTV’s presumed injury, the show’s ratings plummeted from its debut viewership of 3.3 million to 1.6 million by the second week.
This drop in ratings probably has less to do with parents hoarding television from their children in fear of media corruption than it does with the fact that “Skins” just isn’t a very engaging show.
Although it delights with occasional flashes of brilliantly sleazy moments, the dialogue and acting is amateurish to the point of palpable discomfort. (Think Showgirls. Think Gigli.) And due to the show’s format of shallowly focusing on the reckless behavior of one troubled clique member per week, we never become deeply involved or attached to any one character.
Rumors have been circulating in online media that “Skins” will be cancelled before it even completes its first season run, but MTV remains firm that the program will fulfill its scheduled course.
The show’s creator, Bryan Elsley, stands by the show with the statement, “‘Skins’ is actually a very serious attempt to get to the roots of young people’s lives.”
Er, right. I suspect there are more than a few of us experiencing difficulties swallowing that particular line, unless I’m the only one here whose youth didn’t play out like a scene from the movie “Kids” on repeat.
But whether or not “Skins” is an accurate portrayal of The Youth of Today, or even a quality show for that matter, the show certainly has plenty to offer in the shock value department. I, for one, look forward to witnessing what squalid little tricks the writers have stored up their sleeves as the series plays out in this media firestorm it’s created for itself.