Tuesday 1 February 2011

Skins US - Do you know what you're gonna do?

Skins US: 1x03 Chris.

Oh Skins. This is the point where I seriously start to consider if it isn’t actually a disservice to Skins US that I cover it as it airs, rather than going back to the beginning after the season is done. I watched the first gen in one rush, all two seasons in two days, so I just don’t know how I would have felt about these characters and their relationships if I’d seen them develop over two months or so. I can’t pinpoint when it became obvious to me that the friendship between Jal and Chris was a central dynamic and essential for my emotional involvement with these characters, or when I started to realize which characters had more serious relationships with each other that stood out from the group. Chris’ episode, the fourth in the original run of the show, starts out exactly the way Skins advertises itself, and it is probably the culmination of all things people who don’t actually watch the show think it is about – parties, drugs, alcohol. Chris is the perfect character because he is all reaction, no pre-meditation, but he remains a lovely character because the way Joe Dempsie played him – and Jesse Carere’s interpretation is close to the original (I’ll get back to this in a second) – was so sweeping. Chris embraces life. He’s not a nihilist, he doesn’t party because there is no future, he celebrates being alive and it is obvious in everything he does (the reasons are slowly revealed and when it finally comes together, it all fits). Chris starts out with all these scenes that are the closest to the Skins advertising campaigns at this point, and then there is this emotional twist, the change in pacing, the morning after, and suddenly Skins is this whole different show and just as sincere and authentic in its exploration of broken families and loss as it is in its portrayal of teenagers partying and taking drugs and having sex. So, I don’t know – I always felt like it is easy to love Skins for episodes like Cassie, which are just out-of-the-world brilliant and different and beautiful, but it’s episodes like Chris, which pull off the emotional roller coaster and the completely unexpected punch-in-the-gut moments of truthfulness in the midst of chaos and destruction that truly showcase what makes Skins special.

Having said that, the issue with this episode Skins US is that I know exactly how I felt after each of these scenes. I know how my perception of the characters changed, and one of the things that I found so astonishing during the re-watch for the reviews was that the development of the characters in this episode feels so achieved. Chris didn’t have any meaningful scenes up to this point but within one episode he became (okay, for me) the emotional centre of the show, a character that I thoroughly enjoyed for how fun he was, but also admired because he has a completely different way of dealing with a very sad back-story. Jal, after her own episode, became a more layered character and I enjoy her own episode more in retrospect knowing that there is this other side to her character that was explored in Chris’ episode. The sense of abandonment, parents leaving, parents being absent, parents being emotionally unavailable, is a thread that runs through the entire season, but after Cassie’s negligent and disinterested family and Jal’s absent mother and emotionally distant dad, Chris’ broken family stands out because there isn’t anything to fix or to improve. This is how seriously Skins takes its characters and its stories, and how brave it can be when it tries.

But Chris, this version of Chris, is the third episode of the series. Daisy’s episode is in the future. We haven’t really seen how different Skins can look depending on the perspective of its main character because Cadie’s story hasn’t been told yet. This episode is, like the pilot, a remake of the original episode but it feels different emotionally because the narrative isn’t where it was for the original series, and the characters aren’t as developed. There are some scenes that differ because the story has already taken some unexpected turns (there is something lingering between Tea and Tony that makes both of them awkward, Tony actually seems to feel bad about the fact that Michelle loves him more than he loves her, Stanley and Cadie are in a different place because they are pretending to be sleeping with each other, a fake story that makes everything more complicated while Cadie, rather inexplicably since Stanley hasn’t said “I CARE” yet, seems to actually be falling in love), but the real difference between these two episodes is that it is too early into the season. I say “too early” because this episode did not work for me. The pilot was awkward at places but accomplished what it was meant to do, introduce the characters. Tea was an interesting departure into new storylines, still a bit shaky at places but altogether enjoyable. But Chris – and this isn’t at all Jesse Carere’s fault, because he is doing a good job with the character – is the first episode that didn’t achieve what I thought it should have accomplished.

What worked:

Early into Chris’ story, I started to have the impression that Jesse Carere plays this character much more sad and concerned than Joe Dempsie did. This Chris seems to know that something is terribly wrong the moment he opens the envelope with the money, and he seems considerably less enthusiastic when his friends suggest that this opens up all kinds of party-related possibilities. Later into the episode he also seems slightly more frustrated and aggressive (especially in the scene when he admits to having spent all the money and can't pay the pizza guy), which I thought worked – I’ve liked almost everything so far that was a departure from the original series.

The lingering feelings of guilt between Tea and Tony, which Tony seems to want to confront but Tea avoids. I really want to see the fall-out not just between Tony and Michelle, but also between Tea and Michelle, especially since I am growing quite fond of the more obviously vulnerable version of Michelle Rachel Thevenard is playing so well, even though she doesn’t get enough scenes.

Cadie, still, and due to Britne Oldford’s acting which is standing out (even though they are going to have an even more difficult time convincing me of her love for Stanley. I would have needed to see her episode before she asks him out, because I DO NOT UNDERSTAND THIS AT ALL, and I sincerely hope that next week’s episode is going to help)

What didn’t work:

There wasn’t much to say about a good part of the original episode because it’s all visual – it’s Chris, stumbling through the party, enjoying himself, it’s bodies and music and dancing – and I was slightly disappointed by the fact that it just didn’t… look? as good as the original episode. This is really strange because I am assuming that the budgets of the UK version and the US version aren’t that different, but the whole show has a different look that makes me miss the elegance and cinematography of the original (especially the scenes with Chris and the fish tank)

The pacing. I can’t point to one specific scene (no, I can. There is something missing between Chris, holding the baby in his dad’s house, and him running away, and this is just one example), but this episode was terribly uneven. It was also an odd choice to leave out, of all the things, the scene in which Chris drops the baby.

Daisy. This is probably the reason why this review looks different than the ones before, and it is also the core of my issues with this episode. It isn’t the acting. I understand that Daisy is different from Jal – the most obvious thing is the wardrobe, of course – but in order to feel emotionally involved in her scenes with Chris, it would have been essential to know more about her, because without that information, and without any prior scenes establishing that Daisy is closer to Chris than she is to, say, Tony, her decision to take him to his dad’s house, and her running after him to the graveyard, seemed like she just felt obliged to help him. Chris and Jal’s friendship before their romance is one of my favourite things about the first generation, so I am possibly extremely cautious about this aspect of Skins US (and I need someone else who is more objective to tell me how these scenes felt). Maybe they are taking a completely different course with Daisy and Chris here, which would be fine (Daisy seems to be closer to Tea than to Chris), but the lack of friendship between them compromised the emotional scenes in this episode, and they made both the “Where’s your mom, Chris” (which, considering that I am using a picture of Chris and Jal with the milk as my profile pic occasionally, was probably another one of my weak spots) and Chris’ speech at the graveyard less moving.  It didn’t help that I constantly compared my reaction to the lines and the scenes to how I felt after the original episode, but I think there was something inherently wrong in both the pacing and the established relationships between the characters.

Abbud. I like Abbud more than I have ever liked Anwar (and Ron Mustafaa is strangely likeable), but the decision to have him swoon over Tea (it’s not even swooning, it’s a creepy objectification of who is supposed to be his best friend) all the time, makes it really hard to take him seriously. Skins had a hard time telling emotionally compelling stories about Anwar, but I really don’t see how Skins US is even going to get to the tiny moments of beauty in Maxxie and Anwar from this starting position.

The grown-ups. I never thought I would grow to appreciate Angie but Tina is a mess. Siwan Morris’ Angie always seemed both strangely endeared to Chris because of his devotion and ashamed of her own attraction to him (or her attraction to his attraction, whatever). Tina lacks all these layers AND invites Chris to stay at her house (other examples: the new wife of Chris’ dad, the junkie at his house).

Random notes:

I actually feel sorry about my reaction to this episode because I know that this might have gone very differently if I hadn’t so unexpectedly and immediately fallen in love with the first episode of the fifth season.

Am I the only one thinking that they deliberately chose an actor for the pimply kid in the electronics store that vaguely resembled Mike Bailey?

I guess Eura was kinda just there? Is that like her thing? Being somewhere and not being acknowledged, like a ghost?

Daisy joining in with Abbud and Tea celebrating Chris’ money? Why. It doesn’t fit in with her characterization so far, and it compromises her position as the sensible one.


How does Stanley see anything, ever, through his hair?

“Hey Stanley, what is the pile driver exactly? It’s not very common in my world.”

(on the other hand, with the amount of porn Stanley consumes it seems unlikely he wouldn’t know)


“Why did you name him Che?”
“After the Argentinean Marxist Revolutionary who fought his way out of monopoly capitalism, neo-colonization and imperialism.”

Chris asks Daisy not to tell anyone else about "the nonsense". Maybe there is some common ground here and it just needs a bit more work.

Abbud [about Tony, to Tea]: Did he just call you Muffy?

Tea: Stanley got about as far with Cadie as I did.
Everyone: Huh. What?
Tea: No. I never boned Cadie.

This short moment when every single person in the room thought Tea had slept with Cadie.

Also, wild appreciation of Tea’s nipples isn’t exactly the best way to prove that you are the straightest, Daisykins.

Chris in Tina’s trunk genuinely made me laugh. Puppy-eyes.

Random questions which can be answered with one word and anonymously:

Did my obvious love for Jal and Chris cloud my judgement?

Why is Jesse Carere so endearing?

If you belong to the estimated fifty percent of people who think that Britne Oldford is not doing so well with Cadie, why? (I just notice from other people’s reaction that it seems to be a hate-it-or-love-it kind of deal and I am really curious about this).

Is it my personal preference for British accents or are some of the lines occasionally delivered really awkwardly?


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