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Skins (E4)

Rachel Winterbottom thinks it's not just the characters who have identity issues in the eternal yoof TV drama

Written by . Published on February 4th 2009.

Skins (E4)

SKINS: sex, drugs and a truckload of angst. It singlehandedly painted UK teenagers as messed-up addicts, forced to fend for themselves thanks to parents who are too self-involved to realise how their own inaction is sending their alienated offspring into spirals of self-destruction. I loved it.

Over the course of two amazingly successful series, we have been taken on a gut-wrenching journey, full of nostalgia for some, jealousy for others, confusion for most (where were all the hedonistic parties during my A levels?) But throughout the ups and downs of first generation Skins, fans got to know and love the multidimensional characters. So for series three, in typical fad fashion, the entire cast has been shafted – so to speak. Well, apart from Tony’s (Nicholas Hoult, About A Boy) younger sister, the ineffable Effy and her unlikely best friend, the dippy Pandora, who were obviously the only ones not too busy collecting their pension.

With loyal fans experiencing varying stages of betrayal, Episode One, ‘Everyone’, had a lot to prove. Just who are the new Skins? New Kid Number One enters the scene to the soundtrack of 'Son the Father' by Fucked Up, and it’s Marty McFly – ok, Freddie, played by Luke Pasqualino – skateboarding down Park Street in Bristol and paying homage to that other sexually graphic teen melodrama, Back to the Future. As the tone swings erratically between realism and all-out farce (one fart joke is too many) – you’d be forgiven for thinking that Skins 3 is already suffering from an identity crisis.

We’re then introduced to Freddie’s friends as they smoke joints and down a quick pint before starting college. I couldn’t stop myself comparing them to their predecessors. We meet Jonah Jeremiah ‘JJ’ Jones (Ollie Barbieri) – the male Cassie – who has his own set of personality ticks. We’ve already met the sweet, ‘cool guy’ Freddie, along with his severely misjudged hat – think Sid, but less hopeless. And then there’s Cook (Jack O’Connell – This is England), the one with the personality – he’s like a crasser version of Chris.

More characters enter the fray: the identical twins, Katie and Emily (Meg and Kat Prescott), who are polar opposites in personality and yet by Episode Two are virtually interchangeable. They’re joined by the inexplicably named Naomi Campbell (Lucy Loveless) – and there are heavy hints dropped about the three’s turbulent history.

It’s when Effy Stonem (Kaya Scodelario) finally comes into play that things start to look up – especially for the ‘three musketeers’ who immediately all take a shine to her purple fish-netted little tush. Ever playing devil’s advocate, she enforces an Effy-shaped wedge between the three by asking them to compete for her affections. Whoever completes her anarchist-style checklist first gets to, well… you know.

In the last series, Effy was an enigma, saying more with one slow blink of her kohl-lined eyes than others could say in a lifetime. Now that she’s clearly the main selling point of the new generation Skins, the writers must have felt the need to have her speaking aloud the most obvious of observations. “Oh… you hate her,” she drawls at one point, when in the past a slight twitch of an eyebrow would have sufficed. Her lines are now so plagued by suggestive ellipses that her script must look like it’s been stabbed by a fork.

With the title, ‘Cook’, Episode Two looks more promising. As the episode progresses it becomes clear that Cook is a multi-layered character worthy of old-school Skins. With his naturally childlike glee, whether he’s comparing a deaf girl’s breasts to “choc-y Hobnobs”, singing karaoke or swallowing a live goldfish, he’s the most enticing thing on the screen.hen his seventeenth birthday party turns into more of a quiet drink, the ‘Cookie Monster’ is determined to make it more interesting. To him, this means crashing an engagement party on a boat. This being Skins, it’s also a party that represents the union of two rival gangs, with the Whites (their surname and tracksuit colour of choice) headed by the notorious local gangster, Johnny – Mackenzie Crook at his perverted best – and it’s his daughter who is about to get hitched.

It’s all still a lot lighter in tone than Series 2, which often had a despairingly cynical edge to it. Luckily, at the end credits, the fast-paced montage of what’s to come promises so much more: parties, sex, drugs, musicals, explosions, plenty of angst and, yes, more skateboarding.

Welcome to the new class of 2009; they’ve got a lot to live up to.

Skins, E4, Thursday, 10pm.

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