‘Skins’ as contrived as every other reality TV show

By HermineBloom

An overtly controversial attitude does not make for a good TV show. Such is the case with the U.S. version of “Skins”—a steamy teenage drama import, currently masquerading as something more spirited and ultimately smarter than any reality TV show on MTV. It has an advisory board of teenage writers, so it must be genuine and well-written, right? Not quite. It’s provocative for the sake of being provocative, and much like someone handing out pamphlets for a World Wildlife Federation cause on the street, it’s transparent and just plain annoying. For what it’s worth, I wasn’t in half the situations the characters in “Skins” were in when I was 16, and the show prides itself on being so true to life.

But the critics seem to buy the show’s shtick because it has received a lot of praise for honestly portraying the teenage experience since it premiered on Jan. 17. Yet I find “Skins” to be no different than, say, “Jersey Shore” or “Teen Mom.” The latter, however, seems like the most apt example of MTV’s hypocrisy. There are severe consequences if a teen gets pregnant, though she could also end up a reality starlet?

I’d argue because shows like “Teen Mom” are indeed based—albeit loosely—on reality, the consequences do seem far more palpable than on “Skins,” where no kid ever ends up in jail, therapy or deeply regretful of his or her actions: Any kind of wild behavior on “Skins” is edgy and hot, genuinely portrayed as good, old-fashioned fun. Sex is glorified, which furthers the common and misguided notion that sexually active teens are invincible, which they clearly aren’t. (See: “Teen Mom” again.)

However, the fact that “Skins” is purposefully provocative neither offends me nor excites me; it just bores me. Their relationships don’t seem honest, their adventures aren’t quirky enough and it seems to be so focused on showcasing the perils of teen sexuality and substance abuse that it forfeits any sense of narrative charm. Not to mention, the pilot episode of “Skins” was an exact replica of the British version, except with different actors, of course. I honestly have no idea why they thought that would be compelling. I’ll call it a lame attempt to draw in fans of the British show and leave it at that. Having watched both, I can safely say that the American actors look creepily young in comparison to their British counterparts. Partial nudity is replaced with swearing on MTV, and the inherent shock value is expected.

I’m not saying I wouldn’t let my children watch “Skins” or “Teen Mom.” I’m certainly not suggesting we should pretend sex isn’t normal behavior. What I am saying, however, is neither show is more self-aware or sophisticated. “Skins” boasts that 19-year-olds write for the show, yet the dialogue doesn’t come across as authentic.

Also, I’m guessing no random 19-year-old kid is afforded the individual authorial voice in a controlled production. In other words, young kids probably don’t write the scripts. Thankfully, the kids don’t sound like the characters in “Juno,” but the dialogue does sound like the product of what a 40-year-old approved and edited, even if the idea did come from a 19-year-old.

“Skins” has caused more of an uproar than someone like Snooki ever has in terms of its provocative nature though—so much so that the Parents Television Council called it “the most dangerous program that has ever been foisted on your children.” This led to a federal investigation to assess whether it’s child pornography or not, as reported by the Chicago Tribune. The kids on the show range from 15 to 19 years old, after all. Since then, MTV pulled back the reins, editing out raunchier scenes and reminding the public of its so-called responsibilities to viewers.

The show might be left with nothing but a shell of a narrative if producers are forced to edit out its sexcapades. Regardless, “Freaks and Geeks” and “My So-Called Life” are my go-to coming-of-age dramedies. They have something “Skins” and every other TV show starring teens or young adults on MTV don’t have: an unassuming nature without an official agenda. Plus, their characters are well-developed and have chemistry with one another. Teens aren’t always escaping from their bedroom windows, smoking for the first time, sleeping with someone they shouldn’t be or driving off in a rusty van with their friends blasting punk music. For “Skins” to reduce adolescence to a series of moments like this—and nothing more—seems irresponsible. Teenagers are multi-dimensional people. And however impressionable teens are, the grown adults behind “Skins” are far more naive for portraying them otherwise.