why you should watch skins (seasons 1 & 2)
I’ve finished watching British series Skins a while ago (it’s now one of my favourites!), but haven’t written a review of it till now, probably because there’s just so much to write about it. Since any amount of writing wouldn’t do it proper justice anyway, I’ll narrow the scope of this review to include only the 3 essential parts I’ve always thought mattered the most to a television series: cast, character development, and music.
Set in Bristol, Skins tells the story of a group of teens in their second-last (season 1) and last years (season 2) of high school. The interesting (or unfortunate, depending on how you look at it) thing, however, is that since the characters graduate after their final 2 years in high school, the show renews its entire cast every 2 seasons. Thus seasons 1 & 2 are known as generation 1, seasons 3 & 4 as generation 2, and so on.
If you could guess the reference to rolling paper in its title, then you’d probably could tell that this drama features lots of smoking, drugs, partial nudity and sex. But that’s the appeal of the drama: it spares itself no controversy, exploring oft-taboo themes such as homosexuality, dysfunctional families and mental illness. Beyond all the apparent ugliness of the show, though, there lies a clear beauty. Beyond the hopelessness of homosexuality lies acceptance; beyond the coldness dysfunctional families lie friends who’d stick together through the shittiest moments; beyond the stigma of mental illness lies sanity. The series tells us that sometimes, when life just seems too much of a burden to carry on, the best way to face it is to just fuck it.
REASON #1: CAST
Nicholas Hoult plays Tony in Skins, the cocky, confident and charismatic leader of the group of friends. While being smart and charismatic, Tony couldn’t help being an asshole most the time, and is (unsurprisingly) the source of many of the series’ drama. While bordering on being irritating and mental in the first season, Tony’s character undergoes some really impressive character development in the later part of the first season and in the second season. Nicholas Hoult plays the character really well, balancing charisma and arrogance such that I can’t help but feel irritated and yet drawn to his character. Apparently Nicholas Hoult has a pretty face, though weirdly I’ve never considered him good looking until he acted in Warm Bodies much more recently.
Maxxie (played by Mitch Hewer) is my favourite guy character in the series! And he’s secretly the reason I started watching Skins. Mitch Hewer’s just too cute! Maxxie is gay, blond, dances, and speaks with a British accent (ok all the cast members do) – in short, he’s the guy in the show that all the girls like but can’t get (Mitch is straight in real life though)! Although the show starts with Maxxie already having came out to his friends, he is nevertheless not without a sense of melodrama as he has some problems with his best (straight) guy friend Anwar, who’s Muslim and thus theoretically against homosexuality. Although my favourite character, Maxxie has lesser screen time in the show compared to the other characters and thus less character development. I secretly think that after the first season the show’s producers realised just how popular Maxxie got and then decided to add more screen time, and as a result season 2 featured much more of Maxxie.
Anwar (Dev Patel) is a living contradiction of sorts: he’s Muslim, but indulges in booze and sexual fantasies. He’s also best friends with Maxxie, but finds it difficult to accept Maxxie’s homosexuality, and Anwar’s character is almost always explored with Maxxie’s as a result. Mike Bailey plays Sid, Tony’s best friend and “sidekick”. Although he’s meant to be the geek in the series, Sid can be pretty cute (and sometimes even hot!) in the series. Sid is often socially awkward and ill-confident, which makes for many hilarious scenes. And that’s also probably why Sid was manipulated by Tony so much. Besides school work and Tony’s manipulations, Sid has problems from his family as well, as his mum left home and his dad very obviously would rather his son be Tony rather than Sid. His relations with his dad take the centre stage in his character development, resulting in some really touching scenes in season 2. Mike Bailey really brings his character to life, making Sid a believable and deep character (with the help of the brilliant script, of course).
Joe Dempsie plays Chris, the party monster of the gang of friends. Easily the most controversial – and thus well-scripted – character in the series, Chris indulges in drugs, booze and sex, appearing to be the embodiment of the “fuck it” mentality. Behind this facade, however, lies a broken family, and throughout the series we begin to see the layers that make this character so very deep and realistic. Joe Dempsie was brilliant as Chris, managing to portray a seemingly simple-minded but deeply complex party freak in a believable and engaging manner.
I can’t decide which character I love most: Maxxie or Cassie. Played by Hannah Murray, Cassie is the “misfit” of the group; suffering from an eating disorder, Cassie appears aloof all the time but is actually secretly sharp and almost manipulative. And I love her signature line, “oh, wow”! Like Chris, Cassie is one of the most complex character in the series, as she tries to hide her eating disorders from her family – who neglects her in favour of their little child – while at the same time exert power over her friends due to her illness. Hannah Murray made Cassie really believable and layered, and I instantly loved her the moment she appeared in Skins!
Effy (Kaya Scodelario) is Tony’s incredibly pretty younger sister. Although she rarely ever speaks, she exerts a soft influence over her brother and is portrayed to be smarter and even more manipulative than Tony. I loved her scenes, in part due to the enigma around her mysterious character, and in part because she’s just so damn pretty! In fact, she’s so well loved she became the lead female character in seasons 3 & 4 of Skins, although (in a rather badly-done transition, in my opinion) her character in the later seasons seemed totally different from how she was portrayed in seasons 1 and 2.
Jal Fazer, played by Larissa Wilson, is a talented aspiring clarinetist who appears to be the most upright (and uptight) character in the series. Her mother ran away from home, leaving her to live with her famous musician father and brothers, which was always a source of tension between her father and her. She is best friends with Michelle, although most times she’s pissed at Michelle’s apparent submission to Tony’s manipulations. Larissa was really good in the series, delivering some really touching scenes (at the end of season 2) really well.
April Pearson plays Michelle, Tony’s girlfriend. Her relationship with Tony and his frequent manipulation of her forms one of the central themes of the series. Michelle appears to be a shallow girl, but scenes in the series hint at a much deeper character; she always gives in to Tony’s manipulations and forgives him too quickly, for example, but later reveals that she’s always understood that Tony only loves her.
REASON #2: INCREDIBLE CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT
My favourite reason to watch series is always character development (but pretty faces always attract me first so I always list them as the #1 reason)! The fact that every episode in Skins is named after one of its characters should be telling enough of the centrality of character development in the series. With an ensemble cast and each episode exploring one of the characters, the series really makes room for really impressively layered and believable character development. Every character has a past, and as the series goes on you get a sense that they really do affect one another, that they’re really living characters that change and grow with one another. The contrast of this incredibly good character development and the apparent shallowness of the series’ theme of drugs, sex and booze is really what makes Skins so damn good and memorable.
As with every series with brilliant character development, the script is brilliantly written. Dialogue is witty, hilarious and touching at the right times, and the plot in most episodes are satisfying. Tony, Cassie and Chris were definitely the characters with the best growth and exploration in the series, with their respective episodes being a few of my favourites in the series. On the other hand, some characters – such as Maxxie and Anwar – could be better explored as they seem to be bordering 2-dimensional in terms of character depth.
REASON #3: BRILLIANT SOUNDTRACK
Besides the bold, controversial theme and wonderfully written characters, one of the most unique traits of Skins is that it doesn’t have a fixed soundtrack. Rather, each episode features different soundtracks, and I really love this aspect of Skins as it just goes to show the amount of effort and love the crew put into this production.
Here are some of my favourite songs used by Skins (I’ve only got to know them thanks to Skins!):
And as an ending to season 1, the cast of Skins sang Wild World by Cat Stevens: it was so silly it made perfect sense, and it was brilliant.
*spoilers in video!*