How Skins Mastered Teen Melodrama

Nicole Shaker, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Degrassi, The Inbetweeners, Awkward., Sex Education, One Tree Hill: all of these shows, along with many more, attempt to depict the entertaning soap opera that is the life of a teenager. Some are more melodramatic than others, but all of them follow at least slightly similar plot lines; what’s a teen show going to talk about besides sex, drugs, friendship, love, and the woes of family? A show that tackles all of these topics, along with eating disorders, teen pregnancy, mental illness, and death (doing so in a tasteful, only slightly unrealistic, and cinematically beautiful way) is the UK triumph, Skins. This 2000s show perfected the art of teen television, combining humor and emotion in the perfect ratio. 

I realized this only recently. With the nation-wide quarantine, I soon found myself with a shortage of good television to occupy my time. So, I decided to begin rewatching some of my favorite shows. I had watched Skins in my freshman year (I’m now a senior), got a couple of laptop stickers to prove it, and soon forgot about it. Now, equipped with three more years of high school under my belt and enough boredom to binge all day, I decided to pay Skins another visit and see how it’s aged. I then decided to write this story, so you can see that it aged well.

If you’re not familiar with the show, it centers on the sometimes psychotic antics (that include undermining one’s parents, copious drug-taking, and stealing a dead body) of a close group of friends. The central character of the first volume, Tony, is a wild, charming boy who acts with mostly selfish motivation and lives for the drama he causes amongst his friends. His best friend, Sid, is awkward, sexually frustrated, and in love with Tony’s sassy girlfriend, Michelle. Sid’s eventual love interest, Cassie, suffers from several mental disorders, most notably anorexia nervosa, and her best friend by the end of Season 2, Chris, is a fun-loving goofball who, tragically, dies of a hereditary disease. His girlfriend, Jal, is a clarinet protegé with strained family relations and loads of pressure on her at all times. Maxxie (token gay character) and Anwar (token foreign character) are the oddball best friends. I know—a lot to follow.

Each episode centers on a different character, showing us all perspectives. This aspect is one of the main reasons why Skins was so successful in capturing all the woes of being a teenager—it didn’t just predictably follow the life of the awkward boy. Furthermore, its fast-paced nature and sheer craziness at times made it both entertaining and a good reflection of life as a whole, which, boiled down, is a spontaneous mess, with plot-lines dropped, expanded on, and warped all over the place. The show also lets off an air of nostalgia, with flip phones and classic slang adding to its charm. 

Still, because the plots are so crazy and the setting is so different from what we’re used to, the realism of it can be argued. “The show has a lot of real elements but where we’ve grown up is very different from early 2000s Bristol,” said fan Emma Hoberman (’20). “Still, it’s relatable because each character has depth and a lot of realistic insecurities and emotions that most teens feel,  but at the same time, they’re put in strange situations which makes it so interesting.” 

If you combine the lovable characters, insane storylines, and incredibly real emotions, Skins hits the jackpot of teenage melodrama. The second volume, which focuses on Tony’s little sister, Effy, is just as great (I won’t much mention the horrendous third volume or the unnecessary epilogue—let’s just forget about those). Other shows may have tried since to replicate the strange perfection the show achieved—try getting through Skins: US without cringing—but tend to lack the diversity, effortlessness, and honesty that the raw, vulgar UK show unashamedly depicted. I say “strange” perfection because there’s literally a scene at the end of the first season in which Tony gets hit by a bus and randomly begins singing “Wild World” by Yusaf/Cat Stevens, hallucinated characters, and episodes that seem like 48 minute fever dreams. What other show could pull that off?

Hoberman continued to say that the recently debuted HBO show Euphoria, which also centers on a group of high school students, is probably the only teen show which has come close. As it’s going to be a long quarantine, I’ll be sure to check it out after my Skins binge comes to end. And if you too are hungry for some good television in the throes of indoor idle, I highly recommend you watch both shows and see which one reflects your own melodrama best.