It has a formula, or a set of rules. It knows when to stick to the formula and when to push the rules. It never ceases to amaze me that some people don’t know the rules. That viewers can be put off by half the story without realising what the rest is. I guess this is part of the beauty of the programme that I admire so much. The ability to follow a formula and yet for viewers to be so caught up in it that they don’t notice that they’ve seen it a million times before. Most stories since Shakespeare’s time have been three act plays. They put the principal character up a tree, they throw stones at them, and then they get them down again. I.e. they put someone in a situation and then they get them out of it again. Lots of people don’t like Skins because they think it’s amoral. They see acts one and two where someone does something bad and then they switch off. They don’t realise that there’s an act three where the consequences of the actions are seen. Skins does it really well. There are so many layers of good acting, good directing, good script, good music. It’s subversive. They get their target audience who think that amorality is good, to watch and enjoy the first couple of acts, to really feel part of it, and then they hit them with the third act where they learn the consequences and because they were so bought into the bad side they really do feel the consequences. It’s not like the Cosby show or Sesame Street where they end the episode saying, this episode was brought to you by the moral ‘don’t take drugs’. It’s much more subtle than that and consequently more effective. People don’t want to be told what to think, just show it to them and they’ll reach their own conclusions.Skins is the best programme ever. There are others that are equally the best but that’s for another time.
I know it’s melodrama. I know it’s taking things to extremes and could never be real. Or rather it’s extremely improbable. But not impossible. It’s like Bergerac or Morse. You’d never have so many murders in one place but it’s a useful construct to pull different ideas into one framework. The chances of even these individual story lines occurring are one in a million but that’s the one worth writing about.
I like the fact that the actors are pretty much all unknown. There’s no baggage. No stereotyping, no expectation of what’s going to happen. They’re all great actors. However you don’t know what’s going to happen. There’s no rule saying you can’t kill them off in the first episode. It’s not like The Simpsons where anything can happen but the story has to end with them in the same situation they started in so that the episodes can be shown in any order, in Skins the story does move forward. And yet the adults are all fairly well-known comedians playing it straight. A great idea giving them a certain element of familiarity and yet you don’t take them too seriously, like real parents.
There is an overarching journey for the series, but each episode is its own story. Each focuses on one character, shown from their point of view with that actor in almost every scene. At the start of the series is some stereotyping. They’ve carefully chosen a black, a white, a boy, a girl, a gay, a popular person, an outcast etc, and someone to really hate. But when the hated person, and the others, get the story from their point of view you understand that everyone’s an individual and you can actually identify with all of them, you learn to appreciate people for what they are. And then just when you’re getting too familiar with the cast and they’re all melding into one, they get rid of them all and bring a brand new cast in. It’s not like Hollyoaks where they go to college for two years and then they have to justify keeping them around. They really do move on to the next academic year and the next target audience.
I also really like the music. Again they don’t use stereotype music which brings its own baggage. It’s not heavy handed like Eastenders where the lyrics of the song always describe what’s about to happen. They use new music that you’ve never heard before. It’s relevant to the story and it’s relevant to the current scene. It’s not something you already love, it’s something you’ll grow to love.
The writing is brilliant. It credits the viewer with intelligence. It reminds me of Mad Men. In most TV they tell you something’s going to happen, then it happens, then they tell you it happened and explain why and the effects of it. In Skins it’s like someone’s gone through and deleted 80% of the lines. They just show you things happening. If you’re intelligent then you know all the other stuff. Sometimes there’s a reaction shot. If it was on ITV you’d then say a line in your head and then they’d say it on TV. On Channel 4 there’s no need.
So people who complain that the series isn’t what it used to be are missing the point. Life moves on. Music does, fashion does, issues do. And the programme does too. It’s an excellent framework to bring in new stories and new actors. So I don’t understand why they’re scrapping it. I will miss it.