Skins – “Chris”

“Chris”

January 31st, 2010

Last week, I stressed the need for there to be something approaching textual analysis of the U.S. Skins, given that the hype has threatened to overwhelm the show itself. However, that made a lot of sense for “Tea” – that episode, caught up in questions of how the show was being adapted for American audiences, highlighted intriguing intertextuality between the two series. When it comes to “Chris,” though, I can’t help but struggle to find anything substantial to say: it’s a nearly shot-for-shot remake of the original episode, to the point where analyzing it at length feels redundant considering my familiarity with the UK series.

What I will say is that while “Chris” is far from perfect, suffering in much the same way as the rest of the series when direct comparisons to the UK series are made, it still works. It still serves that function of taking a character who had little nuance and giving them nuance, still convinces us that this is a show driven by character despite the sense that it has been defined by controversy. The show is starting with a handicap, but it can honestly only get better from here.

Although, there were a few changes along the way which gave me pause.

Generally speaking, the problems with “Chris” were more of diminished returns than anything else. This is still a really well organized episode, telling a compelling story about the character who most quickly has to face the harsh reality of adulthood, but I’ve already seen it all before. I thought the episode served this function well this time around as well, but that has very little to do with the adaptation.

This being said, there were two clear changes in the episode which I noticed even without going to rewatch the original. The first is a small detail, but one that I picked up on immediately. When Chris goes to visit his stepmother and stepbrother in search of something approaching support, I was waiting for the moment where he would drop his baby brother on the floor. It was a moment of shock in the UK version, primarily because it shows just uncomfortable he feels in that role. He wants to comfort his brother, but there’s some part of him who can’t do it, both because of what that brother represents (his father abandoning his family) and because of what he’s currently going through (his mother doing the same thing). Dropping the baby is more of a metaphor than a reckless act, which is why I thought it was so unfortunate that it was absent here. That was what resonated from the original scene for me, so its absence places the scene in a different context. The story of Peter still resonates, but it feels more generic, mainly because we already know the story but perhaps also because it lacks that kind of definitive moment.

The other change, meanwhile, seems driven by cultural specificity but has deeper ramifications. There’s been a lot of talk as of late about teacher/student relationships, in particular surrounding Pretty Little Liars (which I don’t watch) and the now-canceled Life Unexpected (which I did). In the latter case, the problem was the degree to which the series romanticized the pairing, and I believe that Pretty Little Liars has faced similar concerns (with the writers even referring to it as a “statutory romance” at Press Tour). And so Chris’ relationship with his teacher becomes a part of an ongoing American discourse of these kinds of relationships, albeit with a gender reversal and a slightly grittier context.

The change in the storyline is driven, I think, by a simple reality: American high schools just don’t work like the school in the original Skins, which means that there are no dormitories for Chris to move into. And thus, what was once an act of kindness (assisting a student by shepherding his placement within the dorms, albeit with a room-warming gift to “wish him luck”) becomes an act of secrecy, a teacher “breaking the rules” to allow Chris to live in her house in order to be closer to the one person who seems to understand her pain. The comparative UK scene is subtle, their interaction defined by a sort of sweetness and a long look of concern (and, perhaps, endearment). Here, meanwhile, it plays out as a bit desperate: it doesn’t exactly feel romantic, and it certainly doesn’t feel particularly sexual (even given Chris’ Viagra), but it still feels as though it has been given an additional layer of melodrama. While much was made about how the US version of the show might tone down the original series’ content, here I’d argue that they’re actually rushing faster into “inappropriateness” with their characters. What was once a sign of Chris’ independence becomes a sign of the interdependence of their budding relationship, which seems more complex than other parent/teacher flings but also raises its own host of problems which the UK version took a bit more time before addressing.

That Chris didn’t drop the baby changes nothing in the grand scheme of things, but I think the last change has more of an effect. It won’t quite be a chain reaction, but it’s something to watch out for in the future (and something that deserves at least a mention in an episode where almost nothing else changed).

Cultural Observations

  • It’s “Cadie” next week, which is dangerous: “Cassie” was the episode’s first real abstract turn, and the fact that it wasn’t sent to critics doesn’t bode well. Don’t want to pre-judge, but the preview didn’t look great either.
  • One other change: it’s Daisy in the opening scene where Tony counts the money rather than Maxxie (or, in this case, Tea). Makes sense to some degree, but it does sort of seem like default to set up her increased presence in the episode.
  • Also interesting: how different does this episode play out when we know nothing about Daisy? “Chris” came after “Jal” in the UK, and so does this episode shift considerably when we have no context for Daisy’s character or why she would potentially be the one to help Chris through this period? An open question, as it’s something I’m still thinking on.
  • Having gone back to the UK original, was reminded how much I enjoyed Joe Dempsie, and how excited I am that he’ll be showing up on my television again soon enough in Game of Thrones.
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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Skins – “Chris”

  1. Alan Sepinwall

    See, I always disliked Chris dropping the baby – or, at least, his stepmom’s complete non-reaction to it. Maybe it worked as metaphor, but as drama it completely derailed that sequence, and only Joe Dempsie’s work at the cemetery saved things.

    • I see where you’re coming from, and probably agree on some level: the scene was memorable in part because it seemed so bizarre, and that it resonated more than any other part of that scene for me is probably a sign that it was more disruptive than effective.

      However, Skins is a show which plays with those disruptions, and they felt “distinctive” to the style they were going for. I wanted to see how the US show might confront a moment like that, to try for something beyond the dramatic stakes of that moment, but its absence made it feel safe and predictable. I think it becomes more dramatically “consistent,” and I can see the logic for why the writers might have seen this as an opportunity for a do-over (and why it might confirm my theory that Brittain is the proponent of the broad comedy that the UK has such a tough time reconciling with the more dramatic elements), but I’d rather they have switched up the stepmother’s response than excise it entirely.

      So, I guess you could say I’m all for dropping babies.

  2. Jen

    About the schools having dormitories thing – I’m from the UK, and I don’t know any 6th form colleges that have dormitories. It’s possible that really good ones would, as people might come from a long way away, but it’s obvious in skins that their 6th form college is really not a good one.

    So as far as I know, it was artistic license in the original series, so I was surprised that they changed it in the American series.

    The characters seem to be pale imitations of the ones in the original UK series – I think they really should have changed it much more, and maybe played to the actors strengths rather than having them imitate the original series. It seems like a waste.

  3. Katie

    Myles, will you be reviewing season 5 of UK Skins?

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