Rarely has a television show fallen from such heights like Skins. After an engrossing, realistic and important portrayal of British teenage life when the show debuted, it has dramatically fallen apart. The third series indicated Skins was running out of ideas but it still contained a couple of decent episodes. It wasn’t until the truly awful fourth series that the show imploded due to repetitiveness (especially the Cook/Effy/Freddie love triangle), messes of plots, and a failure to get anywhere near the level of realism or nuanced drama of the first two series.
Just as the first and second generation of Skins contrasted immensely in quality, so have the first two episodes of series five. Focusing on one character per week, the opening episode introduced us to Franky (Dakota Blue Richards), a shy and confused girl who is unusual in what she wears – to the point that she actually looks male. This episode portrayed her first days at Roundview College after arriving in Bristol, and her relationship with queen bee Mini (Freya Mavor).
In terms of entertainment value and quality, this episode began where series four left off. The success of the show when it began was its mostly realistic portrayal of British teenage life, with enough drama to sustain interest and entertainment. So when, just five minutes into this episode, the (possibly) new main character is seen dodging traffic on a pensioner’s moped, the show descended into a misjudged farce, and thus my low expectations for the series were met in record-breaking time.
Franky is adopted and has two gay fathers (Gareth Farr and John Sessions), which the series’ young writers use to justify her strange lifestyle rather than coming up with an issue that has potential to be explored. The writers of Skins have increasingly become incapable of writing ‘everyday’ type characters, which means it begins to inhabit its own peculiar world, often making it laughable and hard for the audience to take the show seriously. Not every character has to be an average Joe, but the first generation’s dynamic worked because we weren’t overloaded with strange characters. Cassie (Hannah Murray) was perhaps the only unusual one, and the series was led by the seemingly ordinary Tony (Nicholas Hoult).
The second episode was an improvement, but a good Skins episode nowadays doesn’t mean it’s anything special. It focused on Rich (Alexander Arnold) and his reluctance to find a girlfriend using Grace’s (Jessica Sula) help. He believes this idea to be ‘possibly even worse than genocide’ – a misjudged line that reminds us of how Skins has lost much of its humour, proven further by the use of Rich’s friend Alo (Will Merrick) as a somewhat forced comic relief.
However, the episode was better because it followed a simpler plot, and didn’t possess many ridiculous moments like Franky’s Grand Theft Auto style moped chase (although Grace’s desire to shout the final lines of Rage Against the Machine’s ‘Killing in the Name’ in a pub was unintentionally comical). This episode’s soundtrack was impressive as metal is a genre of music Skins has rarely, if ever, looked into. They could have chosen standard Metallica or Black Sabbath tracks, but instead chose a good variety of different metal styles that fitted Rich’s character. By the end of this episode I cared much more for Rich and Grace’s fate than Franky’s, and it partly returned to the Skins of old – a well-performed and written drama.
Even with the improvement found in Rich’s episode, this series has begun emptily and inconsistently, but we are only two episodes in. It can be argued that Skins has a greater effect on an audience younger than eighteen because the show can come across as immature and inaccurate to an older audience. However, Skins has pulled off some decent episodes post-second series (like Rich’s episode or Naomi’s in series three), but this proves how under par the rest are. It’s very unlikely the quality of the first two series will be matched, and on balance this series has so far been average at the very best.