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Dead Tree Alert: Peeking at MTV's Skins

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In the new issue of TIME, I review MTV’s American remake of raunchy teen dramedy Skins, which debuts Monday. Like the British series it adapts—too directly at first, its biggest flaw—it’s bluntly risqué and showily amoral when it comes to sex and drugs; it will keep the Parents Television Council good and busy for a while. It also, however—again like the British original—has a sentimental and even romantic streak that is almost a throwback to the likes of My So-Called Life or John Hughes dramas:

That won’t be what gets it the most attention, though:

On U.S. teen dramas, you can titillate the audience with bad behavior so long as, at some point, there’s a pregnancy scare or a cautionary drug overdose. Like the Prohibition-era winemaking kits that instructed the buyer never to let the contents ferment, teen soaps adhere to the agreed-upon fiction that they are bulwarks against the things they are actually delivery systems for.

Skins, like the movies Superbad and Dazed and Confused, instead admits that teenagers seek out sex and drugs because they feel good…

The debut episode is nearly a scene-for-scene remake of the British debut; as with Showtime’s Shameless, I’m still waiting for the show to establish its own voice and determine whether it can survive when (and if) it runs out of source material. (Skins, at least, changed some characters’ names, while a lesbian cheerleader is substituted for a gay male character.) But in the intangibles of tone and style, MTV’s Skins at least feels American, whereas, as I’ve written, Shameless so far plays like a British show set in Chicago. (Perhaps because the original is so unavoidably formed by the specific history of the British dole and working-class culture.) That goes for the characters, anyway—visually, Skins looks like Canada, where it was shot.

What I don’t predict in my review, but will be curious to find out, is how well a scripted series will be received by the audience that is now used to coming to MTV mainly for reality shows like Teen Mom and Jersey Shore. Content-wise, at least to codgers like me, Skins may play like the next generation in teen TV, but it’s possible that to a generation used to identifying with reality “characters” on MTV, the very idea of a scripted show making any statement about their age group may seem hopelessly retro. (Especially since Skins makes a more serious claim on realism than, say, Vampire Diaries.)

Skins is about teens, but in America, can it successfully be for teens?

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