This review contains spoilers.
I’m not sure what I was expecting going into this brand new incarnation of E4’s seminal drama Skins, made up of three mini-movies focusing on a favourite figure from the first four series, but the first thing I’ll say is that Skins Fire feels very much like it exists within the same universe. There were two ways this seventh series could have been horrible – one would be if the same manic sex and drug-taking was as prominent as it was in the preceding six, and the other would be if creators Bryan Elsley and Jamie Brittain had departed too far from what it was about the show fans loved in the first place.
Skins Fire makes neither of these basic mistakes, and should please both new viewers and those who have been following the series since its debut in 2007. I am part of the latter group, and am more than pleasantly surprised by what has been done with this farewell series. The original show broke a lot of rules when it ditched its main cast after two series, and now it’s breaking them again by throwing its otherwise eternally young characters into an adult world. This world is harsher and more realistic, and the fun that can be had there is of a different breed to the house parties and bed hopping of old.
The first of two episodes focus on Effy Stonem, covering spring and summer before part two presumably delves into autumn and winter, and drop us right into her life in London. She works as an assistant in the sexy world of finance and lives with Naomi, who is still living the life of joints and drinking at lunch-time. Effy, meanwhile, has finally found a way to channel her intelligence into something useful and has completely devoted herself to her work. As the most wayward of all the teens we met along the way, it’s strange to see Effy being the responsible one, but even stranger is that she’s completely recognisable.
Despite her vastly different surroundings, Effy is still the deceptively smart, enigmatic, bitingly sarcastic and of-few-words girl we once knew – she just has too much on her plate to be as self-indulgently stroppy. She still has that inexplicable beauty that drives men to mutiny and murder (quite literally in series four), but seems to have finally realised how to control it and use it to her advantage, rather than just let the men run wild and cause chaos. Sweet, naive analyst Dom takes centre stage in this first part and, while Effy seems quite fond of him, we also see her use him to get ahead a couple of times.
The first time involves her learning everything she can about finance, then taking a chance and holding an unsolicited meeting with an investor. Her female superior fires her for the insolence but then, as is usually the way with Effy, her intrigued and enamoured boss offers her the chance to be a trader. And just like that, and with the help of a little insider trading, she’s happy and successful at age-twenty-two. Can we leave her there? Of course not – this is simply the rise before the inevitable fall, and we see that downward spiral begin before the first hour ends.
The other big returning character is Naomi, who I felt was less of a success in terms of adapting an existing personality to a new situation. Naomi was never my favourite character, but I never remember her being the girl we see hanging around her flat, unemployed and devoid of even the slightest spark of ambition. The only thing that rings true is her determination to avoid life, as she did once upon a time with her attraction to Emily (who also returns in part two), and her self-destructive behaviour takes a dark turn at the end of the episode. We can assume next week’s episode will focus more on her and Emily, with Effy taking a backseat.
While I thoroughly enjoyed this start to a new and exciting run of episodes, it’s worth noting that Skins Fire, Rise and Pure are unlikely to pander to fans. Those hoping for Freddie, Cook or Tony references in this Effy-centric adventure will come away disappointed, and my guess is that fans hoping for a reunion between characters not already teased are going to come away disappointed. I might be wrong, but this is an only-slightly unsatisfactory morsel in an otherwise brave, entertaining and grown-up drama. My feeling is that it would stand alone without the Skins tag, but will finish off the show in fittingly brilliant and daring fashion.
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