Looking back at Skins series 6

James looks back over the final series of E4's teen series Skins and sees how the third generation measured up to the first two...

This article contains spoilers.

From 2009, there was a definite air of trepidation about a new run of the E4 drama Skins. The show had established an unfortunate pattern that saw quality wane in each sophomore year of a cohort of Roundview students, with the high hopes of the odd-numbered series let down by the disappointments of their even-numbered pals.

When series five debuted, things were looking up. There were no real ties to the mess that was series four, and the new episodes were brilliantly written apart from the odd poor moment. But then series six arrived, and it exactly followed the pattern established by series four. It doesn’t live up to its predecessor and took the characters in unbelievable new directions with plot elements that made little to no sense. Now that Skins is no more, here’s a look-back at some of the mis-steps of its uneven final season.

Killing Grace

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Killing a character in the second series of each generation has become something of a Skins tradition. Chris died of a brain haemorrhage in series two, Freddie fell victim to poor writing and a psychopath with a baseball bat in series four, and now Grace has joined the Skins list of the dead after a car accident left her in a persistent vegetative state, causing her father to switch off her life support machine sometime between episodes 6.1 and 6.2.

Chris’s death was foreshadowed as early the first series’ fourth episode when we learned his that brother was dead, and was a severe emotional blow to the characters. Freddie’s death was purely for shock value and was never revealed to the other characters except Cook. It seems that Grace’s death was also for shock value. Perhaps the only way to the shock the audience after killing two characters right at the end of their respective generations, was to kill the third one off about halfway through?

Grace seemed to be the characters’ anchor to the real world. She doesn’t come from a broken home, she doesn’t have an overtly hostile relationship with her parents, and she’s not caught up in a mess of relationship problems like some of the other characters. In short, she’s pretty much normal. Without her sunny disposition and relationship with Rich around to lighten the mood of the series, and without her to effectively look after the others by being more sensible then them, the series eventually degenerated into watching the other characters’ lives relentlessly crash and burn. In short: she was this generation’s bright spot. Then that bright spot went out and the storm clouds gathered over her friends.

Sidelining Characters

Skins always has been and always will be an ensemble piece. The characters’ interaction makes the programme as strong as it is. Yet this series frequently pushed characters into the background. Rich disappears and is largely ignored for two episodes (despite the fact that the first of these episodes focuses on everyone struggling with the death of his girlfriend), and when he does return, he’s given a couple of lines and that’s it. He only learns that Grace is dead at the end of his episode and by the time he returns, he’s showing no signs of grief whatsoever. Of all the people who should be affected by Grace’s death, Rich is the biggest and yet this is given hardly any consideration. Even when characters aren’t absent, if the story doesn’t focus on them then they’re largely just in the background doing absolutely nothing without any connection to what’s going on. 

The Nick and Franky Love Story

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Other than Grace’s death, this was many of the show’s fans’ least favourite development of series 6. Of all of the patchy love stories that have featured in Skins, this was the worst, and especially so when you consider how well Skins has handled teen love stories in the past.

Sid and Cassie’s troubled series one relationship was an expertly crafted romance. Initially intended as a one-off sexual encounter, their having sex doesn’t materialise but a friendship gradually develops between them with Cassie developing romantic feelings for Sid. This continued until episode 1.5 when Sid’s rejection of Cassie caused her to attempt suicide, which turned the tables as Sid realised he loved her. Things only came to a head in the final episode when Sid finally worked up the courage to properly confess his love for Cassie. Their relationship eventually happened, but developed over a course of nine episodes that allowed for some real character growth and for their feelings for each other to realistically develop.

Comparing that to Nick and Franky’s relationship, their only interaction in the first episode is Nick doing Mini’s bidding which constitutes starting a campaign of bullying against Franky. There’s barely any interaction between them until episode 5.6, where they share a scene in which Franky’s only lines are “I don’t think you’re a dick” and “So what are you going to do now?”. They have no notable interaction in episodes 5.7 and 5.8. So by the end of series 5, Franky is pretty much ambivalent towards Nick. Then she spends the whole break between series 5 and 6 in a relationship with his brother. Following that there are another three episodes where nothing happens between them. And then, in episode 6.4 we have Nick trailing after Franky like some kind of lovesick puppy.

In episode 6.6, after Franky offers Nick money to help smuggle Matty into the country, they finally realise that they love each other and have sex. So after nearly one and a half series of almost no interaction and zero evidence that they are anything more than acquaintances who have the same social group, Nick has suddenly fallen in love with Franky, and shortly after escaping an abusive relationship, she admits she’s in love with him. It was an unconvincing pairing at best, and one that left many of the show’s fans baffled.

More Gangsters

Although he wasn’t as deliberately comedic as previous gangsters Mad Twatter and Johnny White, including Russian gangster The Doctor as a character was a poor move. Even though his presence is set up reasonably well: Matty’s on the run from the police and stranded in Morocco, and the Doctor runs a people-smuggling operation based in Bristol.

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The characters in the series interact with so many hardened criminals on a semi-regular basis that a foreigner watching Skins would probably believe that Bristol is the headquarters of some kind of West Country mafia. It is entirely possible to have tension and antagonistic characters in a series like Skins without including a psychotic criminal all the time. Making a character from every generation get into trouble with a gangster is just silly. Not only that, it makes the series derivative of itself. Ripping off elements from other programmes is one thing but when you start copying yourself, you should think about letting the series die.

Alex Henley

Alex is completely and utterly superfluous. Ostensibly, he’s there as catalyst to help the gang deal with the loss of Grace. Not only would this have been possible without Alex, it would have been a stronger story. While Alex’s episode has some nice moments in it and deals surprisingly well with the subject of senility, it doesn’t fit with the rest of the series. And it’s because he’s dropped right into the middle of a story that massively affects the other characters. If Alex had been a character right from the start of Generation Three, his story would have worked. But because it’s crammed in immediately after two significant story arcs (Grace’s death and Matty’s disappearance) have been set in motion, it doesn’t work. And the same thing goes for Alex as a character.

Also, Alex is gay but, to be honest, he’s no poster boy for the gay community. Maxxie’s sexuality in the first generation led to an excellent storyline between him and Anwar, and also led to a fairly good sub-plot about homophobia in series two, even if its conclusion was somewhat abrupt and crass. And then in Generation Two, we had Emily and Naomi. A same-sex love story that had a great deal magnitude to it and was hugely praised by straight and lesbian critics alike. In Generation Three, Alex is our token gay character. And one of his main traits is that he’s incredibly promiscuous.

Two of his episodes have featured him using a Smartphone app to find and have sex with total strangers. Now, admittedly this series has had its fair share of promiscuous straight people, but their promiscuity has almost always led somewhere in terms of storylines. Liv and Nick definitely fall into this category. But Alex’s first sex scene seems to be there purely to say “This character is gay”. Because why have him reveal this to the audience by telling another character when you can cram in an unnecessary sex scene.

And then of course, there is his other gimmick. He lives on random luck, rolling a die and matching the number to a list of outcomes he’s drawn up. This had the potential to be an interesting quirk in a similar way to JJ’s magic tricks in Generation Two, but it’s largely an excuse for him doing ridiculous things like punching Alo in the face the first time he sees him. And by the end of his episode, he throws his die into the sea, abandons this way of life, and becomes nothing but a promiscuous gay stereotype with no real personality.

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Franky’s Characterisation

For those who aren’t familiar with the series, this is Franky: She’s an outsider. She’s androgynous, artistic, and pansexual. The fact that she doesn’t fit in led to an extensive campaign of bullying that drove her out of her school in Oxford, causing her to move to Bristol. And the same thing happens in Bristol. Mini spearheads the bullying against her to the point where Franky is ready to literally shoot her. But eventually Grace defects from Mini’s clique and forms a new gang with Franky, Rich, and Alo. By episode 5.4, Mini attempts to build bridges and the hostility between them seems to end. Franky becomes more ‘normal’ (for lack of a better word) but retains most of her personality.

Flashforward to series six and she is rapidly turning into a clone of former main character Effy Stonem. She’s mysterious and seems to be issuing some kind of siren song to her male friends. As with Effy in Generation Two, two main characters are in love with her as she gradually loses her grip on life. Her story was originally about finding acceptance, but it devolves into a clichéd (for Skins at least) downward spiral plot, along with an obligatory love triangle.

It’s Far Too Grim

Don’t get me wrong, Skins can be excellent television when it’s not trying to be too light. Series two was on the borderline of being too dark, with Jal getting an abortion, Sid’s Dad and Chris both dying, and Cassie’s emotional hell and downward spiral. But it balanced out the dark elements with comedic little character moments here and there, and Sketch’s relationship with Anwar. This isn’t the case for series six. Grace is dead, Matty’s stranded in Morocco, Alex’s Grandmother committed suicide, and Franky’s been effectively raped. All of that happens within the first four episodes. There’s nothing light-hearted to cheer the viewer up this time. It’s nothing but an endless cycle of depression and violence that makes Eastenders look upbeat.

Farewell Realism

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When writing series five, the writers made a concerted effort to bring Skins back down to Earth, and it worked. Stories like characters going insane at the drop of a hat were no more and we saw the new gang coping with real problems like the stress of coursework, the stigma of being a virgin, and strained familial relationships. But series six executed a sharp u-turn and subjected the concept of realism to a sustained campaign of carpet bombing.

The characters going on holiday to Morocco in episode 6.1 was a baffling choice, not only because a group of horny, drug-loving teens holidaying in a strictly Islamic nation was a poor match, but because the whole thing had a ring of an exotic, gratuitous, 90210-style bikini parade.

The fact that the gang find drugs in their villa hidden by a teenage drug lord who seems to split his time between living in Morocco and Bristol just about takes the biscuit, but Franky’s relationship with said dealer stretches the suspension of disbelief to breaking point. It’s easy to accept that her downward spiral and attempts at self-destruction would lead to her seeking out dealer Luke, but the fact that their relationship consists almost entirely of aggressive sex and taking part in spontaneous, large scale punch-ups that have no rhyme or reason is beyond comprehension.

Finally, there’s the fact that around half the characters are having hallucinations of Grace, with her cropping up all over the place and occasionally dispensing advice. This would have been an acceptable element if it was kept to one character. It would be a decent sign of grief for Rich or Liv, or of guilt for Franky or Matty. But having several characters seeing her everywhere strips the idea of any credibility, and really seems like a way of crediting Jessica Sula in episodes after her character’s death so that her death remains a surprise for the viewers (Much like why a scene featuring Doctor Who companion Adric was written into the episode immediately following his death). It worked reasonably well in episode 6.2 when it was just Rich seeing and hearing her. But when it extended to Franky and Liv, it just got silly. By the end of the series, my disbelief was no longer suspended. It had crashed to the ground like a malfunctioning satellite.

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