Last night, Skins premiered its second episode to less than half the audience it had in its first week, which is more shocking than the “scandalous” show itself, considering all the press it’s been receiving. In its first week, the MTV drama lost six of its sponsors, and with both its major sources of revenue going downhill, you have to wonder how long this one is going to be on the air. Which is kind of a shame considering this week’s episode was infinitely better than last week’s.
After the premiere, a friend of mine said that Skins is like a “wannabe Degrassi.” I pretty much know no greater insult to TV than that. But it was true–Skins seemed to be about jamming as many kids with as many issues into an hour as possible and giving no reasons at all for their debauchery and delinquency. I’ve never seen anything further from “real teenagers.”
This week’s episode was called “Tea,” and that seems to be the format the show is going to follow–focusing on one character per episode to give us insight to their life. In Tony’s episode last week, we saw a laughable amount of his family, and the show put no thought into the motivation for their actions. We were supposed to survey Tony’s easy confidence with awe and wanting, but all we saw was an uninteresting, one-dimensional character. A whole cast of them, in fact.
Well Tea, thanks for breaking the ice.
We knew from the first episode that she’s a lesbian. She’s out with her friends, but closeted with her family, and, as Tony says, she really doesn’t care. She’s headstrong and apathetic. When her latest one night stand asks why she doesn’t want a relationship, she says, with a completely straight face, “Because nobody matches up to me.”
It’s kind of a bitchy, high school girl thing to say. Sixteen-year-olds are convinced they know everything and everyone else knows nothing, and that’s sort of what I was getting from Tea. She’s just a cocky asshole like Tony.
But then we finally get to see her family life, and she becomes a lot more real. Some of it is overplayed and makes the family into a bit of a caricature–her dad’s in the mob, oh for the love of good TV–but at least her family’s not insane or abusive or any other cliche from the list. They’re just crowded, and it’s hard for Tea to find some attention in that crazy Jewish-Italian hybrid.
She tells her grandmother, who is mentally not with us, that she’s bored with her conquests. She wants an equal, a match. “It never feels enough,” she says, with that heartbreaking inability to articulate the emptiness pointless relationships can leave in a teenager.
Within the horrible mob-daddy plotline, Tea ends up on a date with Tony to make “family connections” (at least the show knew to slip in a Godfather reference). They hang out on a playground, drinking hard liquor from the bottle, and finally I saw the realness. The alcohol–Tea also drinks from a little airplane bottle at school–is still a little too ubiquitous for me to take seriously, but I like that they hang out at a park because when you’re 16, where else do you have to go?
She challenges Tony as to why he dates Michelle (who has somehow lost a lot of the strawberry in her strawberry blonde from last episode, making her conveniently more boring), and all he can say is she’s hot and they get along. When she asks him if he’s bored and he doesn’t answer, you know there is something mutual in them. “You think you’ve got everything,” Tony says, “but I match you.”
Well isn’t that convenient? That never happens, girls. It’s so very unrealistic that a boy would say a line that so perfectly fits into your psyche unprompted, so don’t ever wait around for that to happen.
They dance and kiss, and sort of ambiguously hook up. We don’t know if it’s making out or sex she starts laughing halfway through, but either way, the physical challenge stops but the emotional one still pulses between them. Tea is left struggling with her sexual identity but craving the challenge Tony provides her, and Tony is tortured by the challenge Tea presents that he can never really have. But this struggle between them is an emotional conundrum deeper than anything I’ve seen on the other teen dramas this season, and for that I commend Skins.
The acting of Sofia Black-D’Elia (Tea) as well as her cast mates is still a little rough and cheesy, but that’s the price you pay for having your teenagers actually look like teenagers. They’re a major step up from the kids on Degrassi Street. They have serious trouble keeping the dialogue natural sometimes, but Black-D’Elia has expressions of teenage realness on her face in every scene.
The show is giving me whiplash as it slides from wildly unrealistic to quiet moments of truth. Hopefully in a few weeks it will move past American trash into the boundary-pushing realness Britain keeps raving about. At least Tea is realizing what every teenage girl does at some point: she’s not as smart as she thinks she is.
Tony: “Normal girls like it.”
Tea: “They must be really stupid.”
Oh, they are, Tea. They are.