The MTV drama Skins is shedding advertisers faster than its cast shed shirts in their publicity photos. The past week, when controversy over the show’s sex-and-drugs content was compounded by purported fears that the show could constitute child pornography, saw a half dozen sponsors leave the show, including Schick, Taco Bell, GM, Wrigley, Subway and H&R Block. (Sidebar: H&R Block advertises on MTV?)
The show’s creator, meanwhile, has fired back a statement defending the show’s content. (“The show has been used in anti-drug campaigns, has drawn praise for its portrayal of mental health issues and explorations of bereavement, sexuality, bullying and gender stereotyping. I have lost count of the letters we have been sent by viewers who tell us that they have been able to approach their parents or teachers with their difficulties after watching.”)
I’m loath to add more to the verbiage, except to again concur with colleagues Jace Lacob and Matt Zoller Seitz: I’ve seen four episodes, and while the show is undeniably raunchy, I haven’t seen anything close to pornography. Least of all the scene in episode three, in which a teen character abandoned by his parents is locked out of his house naked; the context of the scene isn’t remotely prurient. Yet it remains the only scene I’ve seen anyone specifically reference as constituting porn.
Still, I thought I’d post briefly on last night’s episode, in the vain hope that anyone is interested in discussing the show on the basis of having actually watched it.
Episode 2, “Tea,” was my favorite of the four episodes I screened, and not coincidentally, it was the one that departed most from the British original; it focuses on the title character, a lesbian who replaces the gay boy Maxxie in the British original.
To get an objection out of the way: did the US version replace a gay male with a gay female assuming US audiences would be more comfortable with her? (And, thus, by a scene in which Tony briefly hooks up with her, rather than experimenting with Maxxie?) Maybe. I wouldn’t be surprised at all.
But if so, it is at least a case of doing the right thing for the wrong reason: the change forced Skins to rethink one of its characters in its American context, which it would have been better off doing with the rest of its ensemble too. The episode actually delves into Tea’s character, home life and family history more than the original did Maxxie’s. And in a way, her and Tony’s brief hookup, stripped of its transgressive elements, becomes more about the people: her issues with committing to relationships, his insecurities that he usually manages to cover up with charisma and bravado. The episode also emphasized something that’s gotten lost in all the media discussion of Skins: that it’s also at heart a fairly sentimental show, with a strong melancholy streak.
The whole controversy around Skins raises a lot of questions—what it is that constitutes obscenity, whether the age of the actors or the age of the characters is the biggest issue, what didactic and morally instructive expectations we expect fiction for and about minors to have. (Also—considering that last week’s ratings were not really that high compared with the Jersey Shore lead-in—do actual MTV viewers care about any of this, or does a drama just seem fake and corny to them next to reality TV?)
But right now I’m just curious what any other Tuned Inlanders who are actually watching Skins thought of the episode. Thoughts?