March 21st, 2011
“Is that why I’m here? To tell stories?”
In reviewing last week’s penultimate episode of MTV’s Skins, “Tara,” at The A.V. Club, I sort of offered my general take on the show thus far: while it has not lived up to the British original, it has made enough variations to define itself as largely independent from that series’ successes and failures. While it remained uneven throughout its run, things started to gel towards the end: actors improved, plots became more interesting, and the branching out into Tara’s perspective was a welcome departure from the British model.
Of course, just because the show is now being considered largely based on its own standards does not mean it won’t fail to live up to those standards in “Eura/Everyone.” In some ways, the finale is the ultimate test: as stories reach what more or less resemble conclusions, the strength of the series’ storytelling is challenged. Skins is a show that tells stories by limiting its perspective, as individual episodes are framed by one narrative while intersecting with others. As a result, an episode like “Eura/Everyone” where the frame character is notable in her absence asks the series’ collective cast to fill in the gaps, never quite allowing any one of them to fully take over (as evidenced by the “Everyone” side of the title).
Ideally, the characters will have taken on such a complexity that the ensemble feel should feel like a culmination of a season’s worth of development. More realistically, however, “Eura/Everyone” will reinforce the hierarchy between characters, their “resolutions” revealing which of them became three-dimensional teenagers and which were left to feel like characters in a story.
That hierarchy is strikingly evident in this finale, although I’d argue that “Eura/Everyone” is more successful than not when it counts the most.
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.
January 24th, 2011
In the midst of the growing controversy surrounding Skins’ sexual content and allegations of child pornography, which Matt Zoller Seitz does a tremendous job of breaking down over at Salon, the show itself is being lost. Or, rather, the show itself is becoming irrelevant. It’s not just the controversy that’s obfuscating the text itself, though, as the series’ almost shot-for-shot adherence to the UK original means that those of us who’ve seen that series are being given very little reason to engage with the show. Just as it is easy for the PTC and advertisers to generalize the series’ content based solely on overblown claims, it’s easy for critics with knowledge of the original series to just sort of step back and let the show happen.
And yet it seems prudent to consider “Tea” more carefully – considering the switch from Maxxie to Tea, this is almost entirely new material, although it technically intersects with some of the developments which developed between Maxxie and Tony in the UK series. On that level, “Tea” comfortably fits into concerns over the series having been made less transgressive in its trip across the pond, but I’m not sure that I’m so concerned after seeing the episode. While I lament the loss of the scenes in question, I thought the replacement scenes were more different than they were worse, and the episode as a whole built strongly on the pilot (and in ways which won’t be undone when the show goes back to a note-for-note adaptation next week).
Ch-Ch-Changes: January’s British TV Invasion
January 19th, 2011
While television in general has become inundated with adaptations of British series, or shows about adaptations of British series, or shows which have been imported from Britain, the past few days have been particularly overwhelming for me. Having put off watching Showtime’s Shameless (a British series being adapted for American television) and Episodes (a show about a British series being adapted for American television) the week before, and then pairing them with a marathon of PBS’ Downton Abbey and Monday’s premieres of MTV’s Skins and SyFy’s Being Human, I gave myself what has to constitute an overdose of transatlantic television.
And, unsurprisingly, I ended up with quite a few things to say about it. The process of adaptation is hardly a consistent one, and its function in these various texts is wide-ranging: It is the subject of satire for Episodes, a topic of debate for Shameless, Skins and Being Human, and a complete non-starter (albeit not without a controversy of sorts, as I’ll get to in a moment) for Downton Abbey.
The response to these various shows has been diverse, but beyond the legitimate concern that the industry has become creatively bankrupt there lies a shifting understanding of change and how we respond to it. Do we want adaptations to be “true” to the original, or do we want them to change in order to find a distinct identity? What, precisely, makes a good adaptation, and does the degree to which a series changes from the original alter our critical focus beyond how we would consider original pilots? And, if it does, should it?
The following is my attempt at answering these questions.
Lowering Expectations for Skins Season 3
August 7th, 2009
Earlier this year, British hit Skins returned to television with a third season in a way that few shows have done before. Gone were every single original cast member save some supporting characters and young Effy, whose brother Tony was at the center of the first two seasons. This was quite controversial for those who loved the first two seasons, which at times really were extremely compelling pieces of television in terms of both writing and directing. I think those first two seasons were ultimately a tad inconsistent, but they evolved in such a way as to really endear me to those characters; even when the second season eliminated any sense of Sid’s innocence, and never quite knew how it wanted the rest of the characters to handle Tony’s newfound learning impairments, the show was so stylistically interesting and raw in its depiction of teenage lust and life that it had a fair deal of momentum heading into its third season.
The season debuted on BBC America last night, months after it was originally supposed to air, so viewers on this side of the pond have been able to see a premiere that feels like an attempt to fit these characters into the show’s previous mould: there’s debauchery, there’s sex, there’s the beginnings of a love triangle, and characters are defined based on their individual characteristics but begin to show signs of resisting those definitions. It all seems like the show is moving along the exact same track before.
And it is in this fact, I hate to tell you, that the show falls off the rails, struggling for the entire season to recapture what made the first two seasons engaging while not quite understanding that there are fundamental realities their storylines include which can’t be reconciled by sex or violence. This group of characters is not the same as the group before, containing its own intricacies and its own difficulties, but because the show around them hasn’t fundamentally change there is very little organic about the third season. More than ever, the machinations of a show designed to dull the senses to extreme teenage behaviour come into focus, and those storylines which survive due so by either isolation or in the fact that the show has never quite gone there before.
So consider the post that follows, containing a few light spoilers for Season 3 (and a whole whack of spoilers for Seasons 1 and 2), my public service for the day: I wish I could say otherwise, but if you’re expecting Skins Season 3 to live up to what the first two seasons offered, you’re going to be disappointed.
Season Two Finale
This summer, I stopped in to review the first two episodes of Skins, a British series which aired this Fall on BBC America. And then, promptly, I completely abandoned the series – it was not out of lack of interest, but there was something about the show that didn’t particularly make it “appointment viewing.” If I had to put a finger on what it was, it was that the show’s artistic side (unique to the genre) only occasionally felt like it was elevating this material to something beyond the teen cliche. The weird interrelationship between a really interesting visual and cinematic aesthetic and somewhat less interesting long-run storylines kept me from writing about Skins week by week, but when I did eventually finish the first season I had to appreciate it; while the overall arcs never really caught fire, individual episodes (organized to focus on a specific character) were quite strong, and going into its second season the show had a lot of questions to answer.
BBC America finishes airing the show’s first two seasons tonight, and I have to admit that the second season was perhaps better than the first. I have some issues with some of the individual characters not quite getting enough attention (Anwar, although Dev Patel may have been busy preparing for a certain likely Oscar nominated film I reviewed yesterday), getting the wrong kind of attention (Michelle, who just never clicked in either season really), or feeling like the attention they’re given doesn’t really offer us a proper sendoff (Cassie and Syd, in particular). Considering that the show is switching out its characters in favour of an Effy-led ensemble for the third season, the second season finale has a lot to handle, at least related to fixing these types of problems.
But what buoys the season is that it also does a lot of things right. In Chris and Maxxie it finds its characters most concerned for the future, both of whom don’t find it in the traditional school system due to either dreaming bigger (the West End for Maxxie) or getting expelled (Chris’ excursion into the world of real estate). Similarly, the show chooses Jal as the emotional center, the character who has always been perhaps the most logical and as a result both legitimizes Chris and eventually offers the finale’s most pivotal grounding force. And although getting hit by a bus seems a horrible fate for Tony, it in fact creates a far less obnoxious and more human Tony once he comes to terms with his memory loss and develops into someone far more comfortable in this world.
The result is a season, and a finale, that feels like the show was better organized to take advantage of its artistic side, embracing its almost dream-like state more often and with greater success. This isn’t to say that the finale is perfect, or that I think we’re ready to say goodbye to these characters, but I think it does indicate that the show and its formula has plenty of life and could work well transitioning into new characters.
“Tony” and “Cassie”
Season One, Episodes 1 & 2
It’s not abnormal for British series to be imported to the states these days: in fact, Showtime’s recently wrapped Secret Diary of a Call Girl was one example, having aired its entire first season in Britain before it started airing in North America. This presents the problem that the series is readily accessible to those who want to find it when it starts airing on a weekly basis here, and thus plenty of people who know how things turn out.
With Skins, two seasons are done before the series has stated airing, but BBC America intends on airing them back to back leading into this fall. I decided to give the show a shot since I figured there is always a place in my television rotation for a show about teenagers doing teenage things. I’m extremely excited that we’re only a week away from the return of ABC Family’s Greek, and this promised to be an edgier alternative.
And it certainly is edgy, putting Gossip Girl to shame in its frank depiction of this particular age segment. More importantly, though, it does something that neither Greek nor Gossip Girl has accomplished, viewing these characters through a lens that is actually unique and focused on character as opposed to sheer exploitation or, in Greek’s case, slightly sugar-coated ensemble plotting. The first two episodes of Skins’ first season feel almost entirely different because they are: they’re stories about two very different people, about two very different types of life which exist in this world.
So while the show is certainly not perfect, there is a definite sense that there is something to be offered here, and that this diverse group of young students exists not to offer a picture of diversity but rather to guarantee an actual diversity in narrative perspectives in the episodes to come.