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Review: MTV's Skins

30th January 2011

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Rating: 17 minutes out of 41

If you’re already a fan of the original then you probably already hate this show even if you haven’t seen it.  You already know that they ‘ruined it’ by taking out all the British humour, and there isn’t a lot new that I can tell you except for how many minutes I watched this for originally before I had to turn it off: 17 out of 41.

MTV's SkinsThe pilot begins as the UK version did, with Effy Stonem (sorry, Eura Snyder) returning home at the crack of dawn and her elder brother, Tony, having to cover her sneaking back inside their house.  And again, as in the original, we’re treated to Tony smugly outwitting his father over breakfast and to his near-monologue as he rallies the troops over the phone, preparing them for the mission at hand: getting Sidney Jenkins (sorry, Stanley Lucerne) laid.

The same multi-way phone call also acts to introduce the rest of the cast in their passing similarities to the originals.  By this point it’s already clear how closely they’re trying to stick to the source material (at least for the first episode) that the character changes they make seem so arbitrary and bizarre.  The name changes are the first that make you do a double take, but the change of Maxxie the gay dancer to Tea the lesbian cheerleader is something that really made me worry for the show.

The remainder of the pilot (which I did end up watching in its entirety) mirrors the original closely in events and dialogue, although it’s said to diverge more as the series progresses (I’m still unsure if this is a good thing or not).  The similarities shouldn’t come as a surprise as the two pilots had the same writer, but it also leaves me with higher expectations.  Bryan Elsley created the characters so he should know them, but it just doesn’t come through.  The dialogue doesn’t sound right coming out of these actors’ mouths (even when excusing the need to replacing the Britishisms with American ones), and while that mostly comes down to appalling acting and casting, it’s clear that something else other than the location had to change to make this fit a North American setting.

And it really does hit home how much a great TV show is way more than just the sum of its parts.  It’s simply not enough to have a proven writer/producer, an already proven and well-received script and a bunch of marketing hype about ‘controversy’ to get viewers in.

I’m very critical of the casting, too.  This is mainly because of the terrible acting, but the young cast of newbies gets a slight reprieve because the script obviously just isn’t for them.  The problem is that the actors are just poorly cast is their roles.  Tony is supposed to be a charismatic young chap that always has a plan but within the first thirty seconds of the remake we know him as a smug dick that thinks he’s above everyone else even though it’s clear even his friends don’t think very highly of him, and it’s the steady decline of the character in the original that reflected the decline of the group’s relationship over the course of the first series. 

Hannah Murray’s Cassie, the weird girl with the eating disorder (and now named Cadie), sold us on how weird and disturbed she was by her fashion, the way she spoke and her non-committal acceptance of everything that was said to her.  As for Britne Oldford’s Cadie all we get is a surprised look in every scene (which doesn’t leave her far to go when she needs to emote) and everyone’s reassurance that, no, really, she is crazy and oh, don’t let her handle knives!

But if we play Devil’s Advocate for a moment we’ll see that there’s no way US Skins could win with fans of the original.  If they’d made massive changes there would be outcry of, “You changed everything! Why couldn’t you have kept it the same?! You’ve ruined it!”  And now that they’ve kept it almost identical it’s going to be, “What? You couldn’t come up with anything original?!  You’ve ruined it!”

The only thing I’m left to wonder is: Why can’t they be happy with the original and the best?  (I’m looking at you, too, JJ Abrams!)  Series 1 is still one of my favourite TV shows to watch and something I recommend to all my friends who haven’t seen it, American and otherwise.  It isn’t dated, it wasn’t poorly produced and the subject matter is all still relevant.  This remake just seems forced and unnecessary.  We’ve already told this story and seen it done right, and all this farce can do is scare people away from watching a series that’s actually worth it.

Now, as for Season 5 of the UK version: ‘Mean Girls’ much?  Kidding! I enjoyed it.

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