Skins series 5 episode 1 review

Big changes mark the return of Skins. Jake wonders if series five has turned the show around...

Skins

Let’s not beat about the bush. Skins v.2 was shit. There would be moments which showed great promise. But then Kaya Frownface appeared and drained the screen of colour as Effy Stonem, the mono-expressive, mentally troubled waif sister of Tony, who found an equally dull partner in Freddy, a boy so dense, his very presence could affect time itself and turn seconds into long, slow, tedious hours.

Add to that a lesbian relationship that bordered on domestic abuse and sloppy, inconsistent writing and Skins v.2 failed to recapture the spirit of the original.

But with this new series comes a whole fresh cast of hip teens. Like Power Rangers but, sadly, lacking in giant robots and kung fu. Before we check out the opening episode, let’s take a look at the new generation of Skins

Franky – Looks like La Roux’s Ellie Jackson at a Torchwood convention. Androgynous artistic type who’s just moved to Bristol with her two dads. Keeps a wooden doll for company.

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Mini – Queen Bee (for bitch) of Roundview College. Constantly seen with her two BFFs, Grace and Liv, or sucking the face of her meathead boyfriend, Nick.

Grace – A fitting name for a graceful young lady. Friends with Mini and Liv for years, despite being banned from council estates by her dad (probably).

Liv – Mini’s other mate. Not much to say, really. Likes dancing. Yeah.

Nicky – Rugby playing boyfriend to Mini. Owner of the creepiest smile in Bristol. A man of few words, which suits Mini down to the ground, really.

Matty – Pretentious kid who self-consciously acts older. You just know he’ll end up either dealing crack or running a commune in five years.

Alo – Is ginger, which probably counts as the token minority for this series. Lives in a van and is eternally horny. Is rarely ever seen without…

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Richard – Metalhead. The Butthead to Alo’s Beavis. Absolute bloody minded dedication to all things hardcore. Shy around girls.

In the opening five minutes, we see Franky escaping from a bunch of schoolboy thugs who take exception to her challenging the gender binary. Though she needn’t be too scared, seeing as they can’t outrun a mobility scooter.

Dakota Blue Richards, already a familiar screen presence in The Golden Compass, erases bad memories of Effy by having the right amount of vulnerability, instead of just scowling at everything.

As soon as we have our protagonist, we also have antagonist, Mini, and you can see the writing on the wall when she offers a hand of friendship, with the other holding a knife. Mini’s betrayal comes as no surprise, but there are hints of something more under the surface than just being a cow for its own sake.

After already falling victim to bullying at her previous schools, Franky isn’t about to take that lying down. Packing a gun for courage, she decides to stand up to Mini. She’s going in for the kill. She’s doing it for a thrill.

But rather than pop a cap in Mini’s ass, Franky makes an impassioned plea to Grace and Liv to realise their self worth, one which doesn’t fall on deaf ears. And its Grace who starts to make the first move away from Mini and welcome Franky to her new life in Bristol.

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The writing team must have been watching a lot of teen movies, as this opener comes across like Mean Girls transported to the west country. But then, if you’re going to borrow, then borrow from the best. But this episode has enough of its own personality to separate it from Tina Fey’s classic and previous series.

With a rebooted cast (and a rebuilt Roundview College, it seems), Skins series 5 has wiped the slate clean after its gigantic misstep. It’s settled into a consistent tone, being more adept at balancing the light and shade.

Skins has often courted controversy for its depiction of teens as drug guzzling ne’er-do-wells, both here and in the USA after MTV’s remake aired. But now, rather than shock us with their deviant behaviour, Skins shows teens as walking piles of insecurity trying to find their place in the world. A remarkably adult approach.

After all the juvenile wanking jokes and reckless partying, maybe now Skins has grown up.

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