Thursday, 13 May 2010

Skins - At least we’ve got our health, that’s the important thing

Skins Season One Episode One: Tony.


Significantly, the two people who have started off these two generations of “Skins” are those closest to Effy Stonem. Just as Effy lingers over Freddie’s entire tragic existence within “Skins”, she is the one thing during the first two seasons that somehow redeems Tony, whether he is risking his life to help her, is the reason for her to start talking again, or the one person who understands what he needs to get better after the accident (which is possibly one of the only times when we really see her try hard at something – as she tells Katie in “Pandora”, “I never try”).
Tony, after he wakes up, goes through an entire routine to become the person he is with other people. We see him put on all these layers: the perfectly folded shirts in his dresser, the push-ups, admiring himself in the mirror – and this façade will remain firmly in place until a bus crashes into him and takes away everything he takes for granted. The two other times when putting on clothes was significant come to mind: Emily looking forward to a fresh start in college, literally having her identity taken away by her twin sister who steals her meticulously prepared clothes, and Katie herself, masking up all her insecurities to become the glamorous, surfacy person, until she has everything stripped away by the end of her episode in season four and is finally herself and content.
Everything about Tony is calculated. The pretentious movie posters on the wall, the perfect room, the novel he reads (“Nausea” by Sartre, a novel about a man who is disgusted with his own existence and the things that surround him) – everything is part of this fake person, Tony Stonem.
And then there is Effy, beautifully disastrous (ripped clothes, smeared mascara) even in her very first scene. We see what defines Tony more than all these carefully picked up objects: his love for Effy. The scene in which he distracts his father so she can sneak into the house to become the girl in the school uniform who has breakfast just like any normal child – is among my favourites. My all-time favourite one involving Tony recalls this one: when he puts on one of her socks and sleeps in her bed so the ridiculously inept Stonems don’t realize that she’s gone (in season one’s “Effy”). Everything that we see him do from that point on makes him look like an arrogant twat.

Everyone else.

The sequence in which the viewer is introduced to every single character save Cassie is incredibly well done. The premise of the first generation is a different one than that of the second: this isn’t the beginning of the year. We don’t see these characters connect for the first time, we catch up with them. They’ve already been friends for some time (we don’t find out how long, but Michelle and Chris at least knew each other when they were kids). The “job” of the first episode is to convey as much information as possible about these characters and their relationships, and it’s amazing that this is all done in one very long conference call as we watch Tony on his way to school. The short characterizations we get of these people are surprisingly accurate: Sid is a slacker, Jal is already practicing her instrument, Michelle demonstrates how unconfident she is because of Tony (“Nips”), Chris is in bed with a random girl, Anwar is in a mosque and we see how he is balancing religion and the world of sex and drugs he shares with his friends, Maxxie is practicing a dance routine with his boyfriend – and they are all discussing Sid’s virginity.


There is another similarity between Tony and Katie (although Katie is more commonly compared to Michelle, probably because of the deeply buried insecurities). Both need other people around them to define them. Katie defines herself over Emily, and Tony, to a certain extent, needs Sid to be not as smart, articulate, handsome, and intellectual as he is. Sid’s arc this season is realizing that he can’t just wait for things he wants to happen, and he needs to become independent from Tony (it takes him another season to figure out that he should be with Cassie, not Michelle, but that’s not really the point this season. Also, I’m not a fan of “Skins” doing either triangles or quadrangles, and that sentiment is not limited to geometrical shapes involving the mystery girl).
In the café where Tony meets Sid (who is eating the least balanced meal in the history of British cuisine, I heard a JJ commentary track on the nutritional value in my head for some reason), it only takes one look for the viewers, to realize that Sid is in love with Tony’s girlfriend (and that Tony quite possibly knows this very well, and how painful it must be for Sid to watch him make out with Michelle).
Tony: “Alright. Who’s stupid enough to fuck Sid?”
Michelle: “Cassie.”
Sid: “She’s still in the hospital.”
Michelle: “No she’s not. They let her out. She’s just not allowed to handle knives.”
Sid: “Alright. She’ll do.”

Chris gets his own little paragraph because the scene in which he offers to carry Angie’s books, right after trying to console her in class (where she is dealing with her very own five stages of grief) says everything about him. He fucks up, a lot, in the course of “Skins”, but he is just the loveliest person while he does it, and he is so desperate to make the people he loves happy – and he is so afraid to lose what he loves by making a mistake. Like almost every one except Tony and Sid, he remains a stranger until his very own episode, but there are already elements of the person he’ll be in the second season here (and yes, Chris is my favourite character of this generation. How did you guess?).


It’s one of the greatest achievements of the first two seasons of “Skins” that a character as constructed and conceptual as Cassie actually becomes a living, breathing, loveable human being, and most of the credit for this goes to Hannah Murray (I could not picture anybody else pulling off the “Yeah, wow, lovely” as well as she does). She shares some traits with Effy (the writers must have remembered that when they decided to make Effy crazy and suicidal in season four, but not in a good way) – she is observant, it only takes her a second of being around Sid, Michelle and Tony to understand how they function, what their dynamics are – she sees things coming (hence her name), but there is usually not much that she can do about it because everybody else is dead-set in their own ways. Sometimes I feel like I am the only person who thinks that she shouldn’t be with Sid – although I still kind of like the idea of them together in the first few episodes. Sid is so oblivious most of the times that’s it’s stunning every single time when he gets something small right, like when he decides to kiss Cassie’s cheek in the kitchen of Abigail’s villa, during the ridiculous party for rich teenagers with no taste (“Ja that would be so safe you know” / “Let’s shizzle on this dizzle and party down”). He stumbles over these small gestures and doesn’t even realize that this is enough to make her fall in love with him.
The scene on the trampoline is the best bit of this episode. Cassie KNOWS that Sid is in love with Michelle. “It’s no good though” sums up perfectly what is going to happen between Tony, Michelle, Sid and her in the course of these two seasons.
Cassie: “It’s not good though Sid, is it.”
Sid: “What. What is it?”
Cassie: “You fancy me.”
Sid: “I…sure.”
Cassie: “But you really love Michelle.”
Sid: “It shows?”
Cassie: “Fucking right it shows. Anyway. She told me.”
Sid: “She told you. Oh fuck.”
Cassie: “She said that Tony doesn’t love her properly, but you do. And it’s too fucked up because she totally loves Tony and she thinks you’re sweet.”
Sid: “What would you do if everything’s so fucked up and you just don’t know what to do?”
Cassie: “I’d stop eating until they take me to the hospital.”
The thing is that Sid is supposed to be this oblivious character – not uncaring, but blind to the things that important, but it’s just really hard to still like him when Cassie is so obviously horribly vulnerable, and still he does the things he does. It’s not like he doesn’t care, but not unlike his dad, he just doesn’t know how to deal with emotions. He knows how to be dependent on Tony, but he can’t figure out how to deal with other people depending on him. Therefore, he is the worst possible person for Cassie to fall in love with.

The element of surprise.
The first episode contains everything that makes “Skins” what it is: ridiculously wacky parents (Harry Enfield is a delight as Tony’s clueless father, begging the question how exactly he managed to bring Effy and him to this world. Freak genetic accident?), randomly thrown in musical elements (when Tony tries out for the choir), and completely over-the-top supporting characters you learn to accept even if their purpose isn’t exactly clear (although Mad Twatter beats his season three equivalent Johnny White). Matt Twatter’s function is connecting Cassie and Sid in the second episode, but for someone who hasn’t grown up with this particular kind of aesthetic, drama and complete and utter ridiculousness existing so closely together (I assume that’s British, as it also makes “Doctor Who” work?), it’s still a bit hard to accept. Denuta was fun though (“At last, the real men have arrived”). Randomly fun.

Random notes:    

I noticed that in the first season of “Skins” at least, the opening credits don’t include significant scenes that foreshadow the relationships between the characters, but simply scenes from the actual episodes.

Tony’s cornflakes are called “Elite”. That’s probably a common brand in the UK, I have no idea, but it was awesomely fitting for his character.

Anwar doesn’t seem to have any issues with Maxxie’s gayness here. Continuity?

Sid’s dad really likes Tony.

What’s that accent that Abigails and her “frands” speak? Posh British? Enlighten me, I’m not a native.

The disdain Tony is met with in the private school (“you common little oink”) still amuses me to no end. Roundview’s questionable academic standing has always been a subtle backdrop for “Skins”.

“Nobody’s gonna shag you, Chris, with a cock that tiny.” Well if you say so Jal.

Oh Mike Bailey. Without you I’d never wikipediad “rhotic accents”. I am now much wiser, thank you.

The scene where Sid turns on his phone after scoring the three ounces of weed from Mad Twatter (with his balls as collateral) and slowly, one by one, all of his missed calls and texts come in, cracks me up every time. Mike Bailey’s comic timing as Sid is awesome.

“You mustn’t eat it, just arrange it”

“I’m sorry you guys. I just wanted to show you my world, you know?” I think I once mentioned that I feel the same way about Maxxie that I do about Thomas: both are excellent supporting characters, but I don’t find them all that interesting when they are given their very own stories, as much as I love them.

Michelle's and Tony's matching outfits crack me up every time. Also, Michelle dances to her own beat, and on any given dancefloor.

Cassie gets all the good lines in this episode:

“I like the boats. They go places. Like overseas and everything.”

Of course Sid would get the “girl” side under Tony’s duvet.

They all walk home together at the end of the episode. There were so few group scenes in the second generation, but here, the element of friendship, both of friendships between two or three people,and of the entire group, is important and incredibly well handled.


Anonymous said...

Rubbish. Poor writing. So scathing in the analysis that it's cringeworthy. You are mediocre in all aspects.

cathy leaves said...

I'm sorry that you feel like you've wasted your time here.

Gerald the Puppet said...

Whoa, I don't know why that last comment was left, but I thought this was really bright and incisive.

I especially liked the part where you deconstructed Tony's morning routine, and the various getting dressed scenes -- so true!

I'm going to reconsider Sid and Cassie's relationship, after what you wrote here. Definitely a lot to think about!

cathy leaves said...

Thank you, this means a lot to me. I didn't really know what to do with a vague, non-specific "you are mediocre". And by the way, I do understand why people love Sid and Cassie, this is just my personal interpretation, and I really hope that different interpretations can exist alongside each other (because with Skins, it's all about whatever you've been through influencing your point of view on the characters and stories, I think).

Anonymous said...

i loved your interpretations on various episodes of these awesome series. Ignore that horse cock sucker dick faced prick, I bet he/she never did anything meaningufull in his whole life, unlike you, who did this whole blog just for the sake of it. That is something most people won't ever do.

Loved it.
Big kiss, all the way from Portugal :)

cathy leaves said...

Thank you so much! WHOA, GOOD SWEARING!