England’s ‘Skins’ shows the imperfection, viscerality of being a teenager

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As the saying goes, “Kids will be kids.” But what England’s highest-rated teen drama of the late 2000s will tell you is that kids can be whatever the f— they want.

With a name like “Skins,” referencing the paper used to roll cigarettes (and other things), you can bet this show isn’t your average clean-cut, milk-and-cookies portrayal of high school. The E4 television series follows a ramble of students attending Roundview College; some of the principal characters are sweet and innocent while others are cheeky, dirty-minded and prone to getting in trouble.  

The British series aired in 2007, running successfully through 2012 with a “Skins Redux” season in 2013. Its devout fan base first began following the lives of Tony Stonem (Nicholas Hoult), Sid Jenkins (Mike Bailey), Cassie Ainsworth (Hannah Murray) and Chris Miles (Joe Dempsie), to name just a few key players of the first generation.  

Within the pilot episode’s first minutes, it’s made clear that this show is not for those who shy away from nudity, unbridled cursing or the occasional offensive line. Viewers may often find themselves thinking, “Oh, that would not be allowed in 2020,” but even today, humans do and say offensive things all the time — “Skins” just doesn’t hold back from exposing how some people really treat each other. When Tony makes snide remarks to Maxxie (Mitch Hewer) like “Are you going to gay me now?” after the two friends share emotionally intimate moments, the words can be jarring to the ears.

While this kind of behavior isn’t something the show is trying to promote, however, it shows both the endearing and gritty corners of dynamic adolescent relationships. Humor between teenagers is sometimes edgy and off-putting, and the show doesn’t stray away from showing raw depictions of everyone’s less-than-pleasant sides for the sake of being politically correct — keep in mind, this show is both intrinsically late-2000s and British. 

Differing from most other shows about teenagers, the writers of “Skins” had an average age of 21 at the time of production. This perspective makes the show feel just a bit closer to reality, as many of the people building this world were fresh out of high school or preparing for their A-levels while writing a hit television show. 

One of the most striking differences between “Skins” and a typical American-produced teen show is that not all of the characters look picture-perfect all the time. The show’s costume and makeup design strays away from covering up acne or making sure outfits are the most flattering they can be, instead allowing each character to feel like the people you actually went to school with. And while the characters come face-to-face with their own struggles, accomplishments and fears about the future, they all have at least some similar goals: find yourself, nurture strong relationships and, well, get laid.  

“Skins” spans three generations of characters, each taking up two seasons, or “series,” to tell their stories. This format is similar to other popular teen dramas like “Degrassi: The Next Generation,” in which characters cycle out as their loose ends tie up and fresh faces enter the scene. 

Effy Stonem (Kaya Scodelario) is one of the only characters to cross over between generations. She starts out as the mere little sister of Tony Stonem in the first two series, but moves on to hold her own, more mature storyline as she enters high school, or “college,” finding a place within the second generation as a staple character.

Effy’s coming-of-age story holds listeners’ attention the longest; although she doesn’t have major appearances in the first generation (bar a few earth-shattering moments), fans see her early teen years float into her intense young adulthood until 2013’s redux season, in which the spitfire returns as a 21-year-old living a transformed lifestyle.  

The show is filled with comedic situations, lovable characters and gripping climaxes, but it also comes with its heavy moments as well. Throughout each generation, many of the characters grapple with mental health struggles, particularly in the forms of eating disorders, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. While society can sometimes seem quick to brush off teenagers as “dramatic,” this show addresses the pains of growing up head on without patronizing its leads. 

Undoubtedly, “Skins” is controversial. But, as Roundview’s deputy headmaster always says, “They’re just kids.” 

“Streaming Diaries” articles are recommendations from Daily Cal staff members on underrated content available on streaming platforms.

Skylar De Paul is the deputy arts & entertainment editor. Contact her at [email protected]. Tweet her at @skylardepaul.