Skins series 4 episode 1 review

E4's most loved and loathed teen drama returns, but is Skins still young and fresh?

Mention Skins while in company and chances are that people will roll their eyes back so hard their faces will resemble a macabre fruit machine. However, if you push them further on their opinion of it, then it’s even more likely that none of them will have seen a full episode.

Upon arrival, E4’s archetype contemporary teen drama Skins was, much like the teenagers of today, the subject of many a derisive snort. Its critics ranted against the supposed portrayal of modern youth as a sorry bunch of a drug fuelled, sex obsessed, feral thugs who would kick in their grandmothers’ teeth for vodka money then upload the mobile camera footage to YouTube. Except it wasn’t like that at all. Well, not totally, anyway.

The first two series, now affectionately known as ‘Generation 1’ (take that, Transformers fans!), had a hyper-real energy running throughout which elevated it above people’s uninformed perceptions. The sex and drugs aspects were handled surprisingly well and it had some genuine talent in its young cast, which included the Oscar winning Dev Patel.

After Skins hit big, E4 held on to its teen audience with the fantastic Inbetweeners and Misfits while BBC Three’s response, Dis-Connected, didn’t make it past the pilot.

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However, series 3 could be politely described as ‘patchy’ which is a nicer way of saying ‘barely coherent sprawling mess’. Rebooting with an almost entirely new cast was a bold move, however, they turned out to be a poor replacement for the originals, with only Jack O’Connell as Cook being convincing.

Its focus was so intent on setting up the dullest love polygon ever between three musketeers JJ, Cook and Freddie with the “like, totally deep” Effy at the centre. (It didn’t help that Freddie and Effy had about as much charisma and chemistry between them as the average paving slab.)

It had no time for silly things like rounding out the rest of the cast beyond cardboard cutout characterisation or believable storylines, such as Emily coming out as a lesbian, then sleeping with JJ because… well, there was five minutes left at the end of the episode, I guess.

It was also indecisive in tone, shifting from serious drama to high comedy so quickly it gave viewers whiplash – the finale culminating in three friends turned rivals fighting for a girl’s love by running through a small town with old ladies on their backs.

It had become everything people who hated it said it was. At the end, it even seemed to recognise how lost it had become when Cook asked, “So what do we do now?”

The fourth series opens in a confident fashion showing the gang at a club night, which is positively jumping! However, one drugged up young lady decides to take it all too literally and leaps to her death from a balcony, leading to a surreal scene where half of the club shrieks in horror and the other carries on regardless.

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For club night runner Thomas, though, it’s the start of a torrent of misfortune. Thomas goes from glum to miserable in quick succession. First, he’s racked with guilt over the dead girl. Then his anger at the venue owner’s lax security, and on top of all that, he now has his strict God-fearing mum living with him.

Merveille Lukeba handles Thomas’ slow alienation and inner pain superbly over the episode.

His sullenness with Pandora gets progressively more uncomfortable as he’s reminded of her past dalliance with shagbeast Cook, who he believes is responsible for supplying the drugs that night. Then he finds comfort in the arms (and legs) of the divine Andrea after storming away from a family crisis, driving the final nail into the coffin when he coldly tells Pandora that he slept with someone else.

However, when he learns who really gave the girl her last dose, he’s racked with guilt and tries to make amends, but Pandora tells him where to go.

The cast this time round seem a lot more confident in their performances. Oliver Barbieri has added some life to JJ, and Lisa Blackman not only displays some great comic timing, but can strike the right emotional chords when needed.

This episode also features Pauline Quirke popping up as an uptight over zealous detective. And The Thick Of It’sChris Addison plays a thinly-veiled caricature of David Cameron named David Blood, in a manner 1000 miles away from Ollie Reeder, yet, very close to his twitchy stand up persona.

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Skins seems to have learned from the myriad of mistakes in the last series on the evidence of this opener.

However, Thomas’ family suddenly moving in with him, and the disappearance (along with subsequent reappearance) of Effy have come out from nowhere. Which could well be a slightly fumbled attempt to give this series a much needed reboot, but for anyone following the series it’s just confusing. Also it’s still lacking the energy and freshness of ‘Generation 1’. But this was the most consistent and strongest episode of the current line up.

It seems that there’s actually quite a bit of life to this girl’s death and it looks as if it’ll form a strong central premise for the series.

Future episodes seem promising enough, though, and, hopefully, the shorter run will result in tighter writing than the bloated and unfocused third series. Maybe E4’s flagship drama can finally come of age this time round.