Ever since we heard MTV was taking our favorite British show of all time and watering it down for America, we've had our reservations. Despite being heckled by their Twitter, we were invited to MTV HQ to screen two episodes.
[The US SKINS Cast. Chris (Jesse Carere), Tea (Sofia Black D'elia), Abbud (Ron Mustafaa), Tony (James Milo Newman), Michelle (Rachel Thevenard), Daisy (Camille Crescencia-Mills), Stanley (Daniel Flaherty), Cadie (Britne Oldford) and Eura (Eleanor Zichy)]
Kristina: I don't think it's a secret that I've been skeptical from day one. And while I do appreciate Bryan Elsley's introduction before the screeners started, it served as more of a warning the first episode was a carbon copy of the original version of the show. That didn't help to curb my skepticism at all. I was really hoping to be proved wrong, but sadly I was not.
Zach: Neither was I. I know that you and I were both highly skeptical going into this, and I have to say I was cringing for the majority of those first 40 minutes. It was like watching your high school put on a crappy production of your favorite play. You know the intentions are good and that the talent is there, somewhere, but the execution just feels hollow.
Kristina: Exactly. It felt like the characters were the more malformed conjoined twins of the originals or something.
Zach: Or, like their Canadian cousins.
Kristina: It's true! Most of the actors are Canadian, eh? And the show is no longer set in Baltimore. Bryan Elsley mentioned that too. They're going for a more "generic northeast coastal town" than pigeonholing it to a specific city.
Kristina: Yeah! And, frankly, I think that was the right move. Way more teenagers can identify with a generic suburb than they can with a place like Baltimore. Especially since there's no way SKINS could compete with what Baltimore is known for in post-millennium pop culture. The Wire.
Zach: Well, that definitely explains a lot... I guess that's why I really feel like the show has lost something en route from the UK. Bristol is an integral part of who the kids are, and watering down the setting to look like Oakville, Ontario may speak to teens (somehow?) but it removes a dimension from the original show. But we're American Anglophiles, so who knows if we ever would've been happy with the location swap.
Kristina: Location aside, I wasn't able to stomach anything about the swap, really. Everything seemed so forced. They couldn't even be bothered to change inherently British phrases like 'reckon'. When was the last time you heard an northeast American say 'reckon' instead of 'think'? That's just lazy. And with all the emphasis the producers have put on making the whole thing seem authentic, with their "teen advisory board" and what not, I can't imagine that authentic regional language was something they weren't concerned with. But whatever. I guess I should give them some credit for re-naming Mad Twatter Mao Tse Dong. That was pretty good. I guess you can't say twat on basic cable.
Zach: I think one of the hardest things for me to stomach was the god awful acting from the adult actors on the show. Tony's father goes beyond the cartoonish buffoon role and catapults into some lame, screamy type.
Kristina: You beat me to it. The adults were awful. And how about their teacher?! The one that Chris has a crush on?
Zachary: Oh my God, the histrionic breakdown she has when trying to read that poem [about a break up]? That was the height of my misery. Here's the thing: The UK SKINS had me with that opening shot. Yeah, I know, they removed the nudity, but not liking this show was never going to be about not being able to see skin. It was a total Hitchcock vs. Vince Vaughn Psycho shot-for-shot battle that went down. You knew it couldn't end well.
Kristina: That's the perfect analogy for it. From the first thirty seconds, you knew it was going to be a disaster. The thing that sucks about the pilot being so awful, though, is that we got a chance to see episode 5, that centers around Tony's best friend, Stanley. And it wasn't that bad!
Zach: No, it really wasn't!
Kristina: But I think so many people will be turned off by the terrible pilot that the producers will be lucky if anyone makes it that far.
Zach: You only get so many chances to impress teens these days, you know. What is it you think the dedicated fans of the UK series are going to be most upset about?
Kristina: Probably how watered down it is. And a lack of accents. If I wanted to hear Canadian teenage problems, I'd watch Degrassi.
Zach: Personally, I was impressed with the soundtrack selection. Kids should be listening to more Animal Collective and Bears In Heaven today. I'm glad to see the same show that featured a Crystal Castles live set is carrying something over in that arena.
Kristina: I'm going to trust you on that one, because music is not my thing. I listen to the same three bands over and over again. And most of my new music comes from Apple commercials.
Zach: This isn't to say the UK series is perfect. I think some of the young actors, namely Tony (Nicholas Hoult) and Anwar (Dev Patel), were weak in their acting efforts at best. I worry most about giving Chris' character the level of depth he had in the UK.
Kristina: Funny, because Dev Patel is the only one who ended up in an Oscar award winning film. Although I think we can all agree that Slumdog Millionaire was the worst Best Picture winner...ever. Anyway, in respect to the teenage actors, I thought Chris was one of the best in the original (Joe Dempsie), and one of the best here (Jesse Carere). And I don't know if that's a testament to the character or the actors playing him. But there's just something about him, in both series, that's so sympathetic and likable.
Zach: I agree with you. But Chris is one of the most entertaining and empathetic characters on the show, and I realize that they're sticking with the original premise of focusing each episode around a different character so we may have missed the building of his depth [since we only saw episodes 1 and 5]. Also, did his voice seem weird to you? Like he had spent the entire night before yelling at the top of his lungs at some Tragically Hip concert? (That's what they do in Canada for fun: go to Tragically Hip shows). And the episode in the UK series where is mother leaves him is one of the best. There's a fine line between coming off as tragic and coming off as pathetic. I hope he doesn't fall into the latter.
Kristina: Yeah, I know they plan on deviating from the original plot in future episodes, but Chris' is one they can't improve upon. It was just perfect. And duh, he would be the one with a tired voice. He's the ultra druggie of the group. As opposed to Tony who spends his time singing in all female choirs to piss off his girlfriend for shits and giggles.
Zach: Oh man. Can you believe that they actually carried that part over? I know you're the ultimate theater nerd, but don't you think that's a little ridiculous?
Kristina: ABSOLUTELY! It was absurd, mainly because that's not a thing over here as far as I know. Prep schools in the UK are nothing like prep schools in the US. And I'm fairly sure it's not customary to have just one male singing in a concert of all girls. But what do I know, I'm not a chorus teacher at an all girls prep school.
Zach: The blonde girl, (Abigail in the UK series) makes me want to punch a wall, both in the UK and in the US versions. She could not possibly exist in the real world.
Kristina: Oh but she does. I am sure she does.
Zach: I'm not saying inexperienced, slightly stupid, over-privileged types don't exist, because they definitely do... I mean, I grew up in New England.
Kristina: They exist in New Jersey. Trust me. But I don't think Abigail is supposed to be relatable. Her character functions as the antithesis of the rest of the gang.
Zach: OK, first answer that comes to your head: which character will flat the hardest?
Kristina: I'm going to say Stanley. Or Cadie.
Zach: And I would absolutely have to agree with you. I think Stanley will have the hardest time living up to Sid (the UK version of his character) because even in the episode we saw that centered around him, he had turned in a lot of that sweet down-on-his-luck-early-in-the-game likability into a kind of a pathetic stoner vibe. You don't understand his reasoning for making bad decisions, and you don't feel as good for him when he breaks the rules.
Kristina: Exactly. He's not nearly as empathetic as Sid. And, honestly, I think it has a lot to do with the actor playing him. Talking to Daniel Flaherty was like talking to Stanley, which isn't a bad thing if you're going for the carefree stoner vibe.
Zach: We know these kids aren't trained actors. And I am all for that desperate stab at realism in order to relate better with teenagers. The girl who plays Tea seems like the "future in acting" type. I have to say, she was actually one of biggest surprises for me in the series.
Kristina: Agreed. I'm not totally on board with turning Maxxie's character into a girl, but she grew on me. And it'll bring a cat-fight aspect to the Tea/Maxxie-Michelle-Tony love triangle.
Zach: Tea and Tony end up hooking up?
Kristina: Don't quote me on it, but I think so. They hinted to it in the trailers, and in Stanley's episode as well. If they don't they definitely should, that would make for some great TV drama.
Zach: Right. I guess that's a play on the whole Tony trying to seduce men because he gets off on the power subplot.
Kristina: So, how do you think it'll fare? Despite the fact that we're being so nitpicky.
Zach: I'm going to use the rare opportunity to make a sports reference on this site and pull a Dennis Green: "They are what we thought they were." This show is so well intentioned, as is everyone that tries to copy something that's great. And in all honesty, I don't think the results are as bad as they could be. But I think what we're looking at is Degrassi on steroids, and I don't mean that in just a bad way, or even in a watered down generic Canadian way.
Kristina: That's true. What about for people who haven't seen the original? I mean, we live on the internet, so it's rare that something seems new to us, but for a lot of people this is going to be their first introduction to the SKINS universe.
Zach: I think for people who haven't seen the original, the show will be intriguing. There is no denying that the plotlines are risky and cover territory well outside any other American teen shows. This is competing with shitty shows like Greek and Gossip Girl [Ed note: Kristina does not think Greek or Gossip Girl are shitty shows. In fact, they are awesome.] which completely bypass the actual teenager experience: the uncertainty, the self-doubting, the awkward self-discovery... I think if I had seen the Americanized version of SKINS as a 16 year old, I would've found a lot of things I liked. Aside from a completely badass soundtrack.
Kristina: I think so too. Actually, I'm sure I would have latched on to something like this like a leech at 16.
Zach: I think you would've too, Luca. I don't think anything has ever made the US/Anglo crossover without criticism and purists claiming that it would never work. The show will probably limp through its first season because of contemporary MTV's complete inability to market a show. Remember when they were good at that?
Kristina: They were good at that?
Zach: A show like this is a step in the right direction for MTV as a network. I'm secretly hoping it does well, so then everyone will start streaming the original series on Netflix.
Kristina: Also, MTV has pretty much cornered itself into being a primarily reality based network, so their demo might be surprised by something that, in a lot of ways, is more real than say... Jersey Shore.
Zach: It's MTV. The good stuff always does badly (Clone High, Human Giant, The State) and the bad stuff always does so, so well (Newlyweds, Teen Mom, The Hills).
Kristina: So this is going to do great, then!
Zach: Scripted series are fighting an uphill battle on that network. They have their work cut out for them, but I'm hoping the show can do well.
Kristina: I do too, if only for the actors' sake. They were a great bunch. Before I got a chance to meet them, I wanted it to fail. But they really believe in it, and believe in it standing out as its own show. Not just a cheap imitation of the UK one.
Zach: Do you think this show will fare well?
Kristina: I think it will. For every person like me, who is a fan of the original and will probably not watch it (at least not so that it gets any ratings) there are about 15 more angsty and confused kids who will eat it up. Though, the TV-MA rating may hurt it.
Zach: Honestly? Do you pay attention to tv ratings ever? I mean, Bridalplasty is rated TV- MA too.
Kristina: No, because a) I'm an adult, and b) even when I wasn't an adult, my parents were never that concerned with "bad things" on TV and in film, as long as they knew what I was up to. But a lot of parents probably won't let their kids watch this. My uncle didn't let my two cousins watch Power Rangers when we were kids because it was "too violent."
Zach: My parents also didn't want me to see R rated movies when I was 13, but that didn't stop me from sneaking into the theater.
Kristina: Ron Mustafaa, who plays Abbud, even told a story about how his mom didn't quite get it.
[There was a video here]
Zach: It's true. This is a very "modern" take on teenage experiences that embraces some pretty heavy drug and alcohol abuse as relatively regular activity.
Kristina: And I think its some stuff that parents don't want to admit exists as a reality for their kids. But regardless, you're right. Those who want to watch will find a way to watch, even if it is only allowed to air after 10 pm.
Feel free to take or leave our not-so-humble opinions about the show. But we suggest you give it a chance when it airs on MTV on January 17th at 10 pm to see for yourself.