This review contains spoilers.
I’ve been critical of Skins since the beginning of this series (granted, it’s only episode two), and that’s mainly because the show had for a long time failed to look, sound or smell like the show I started watching back in 2007. I hadn’t bonded with this new bunch of Roundview students like I had with Sid, Cassie, Cook or Katie, and that was a huge problem for my enjoyment.
Well, now I can say that series six, episode two has given me that same elusive feeling classic Skins had offered me before, and I will count this story as one of my favourites.
After last week’s unfortunate car accident, Rich is trying to break through the cast iron barriers around Grace, set up by Mr. Blood. It helps that we already believe in Rich’s love for Grace, and his desire to see her doesn’t have to be justified.
Alexander Arnold is brilliant throughout, selling every self-obsessed rant and desperate action into something we can all relate to and sympathise with. I’d never felt like we’d gotten to know Rich before this week, as his episode last series was a study of ‘metal kids’ in general before it was a peek into his particular mind. Here he became a fully rounded character, crippling flaws and all. His relationship with Grace was one of my favourite things of last year, and it’s understandably at the forefront of this episode too.
But his chemistry with Will Merrick is what really makes the hour worth watching. Rich and Alo had a nice bromance brewing last year, and writer Daniel Lovett, who also scripted last year’s Alo, has here created an effective portrait of two best friends overcoming the obstacles of puberty. It’s not a new concept for two male friends to be fighting over the problems that adolescence has brought into their paths, but here it’s done with an honesty and innocence past friendships on the show hadn’t demonstrated.
Tony and Sid always had an underlying aura of disdain and resentment; Cook and Freddie a homoerotic tension that manifested itself in their mutual attraction to Effy. Rich and Alo’s scenes this week feel more true to life than any shared by the show’s previous depictions of male friendship, and their exchanges give the episode a sweetness and honesty only underlined by Rich’s parallel longing for girlfriend Grace.
Admittedly, not a lot happens in the episode, as Rich ends up in an even worse position than when he started. Nonetheless, Rich has all the ingredients that make up a great Skins episode: crazy house parties, a brilliant turn from the adult supporting cast (Chris Addison is magnificent as Blood), laugh-out-loud humour, friendships torn apart, heartbreaking romance, surrealism, and outlandish plot complications. In short, this is an episode of Skins, and I hadn’t felt that way after watching for a long time.
Despite some distressing stuff towards the end of the episode, the show has also never been funnier. Alo’s description of Mini as “a padding pool that got punctured”; the boys’ band mate offering their pitiful wrestling match as “sheen of respectability” with a drum beat; Rich’s mum taking Take a Break‘s ‘guide to teenage suicide’ to heart; or Rich’s reaction to a girl crying in front of him (“can we get some biscuits over here”). There are plenty of laughs here to break up the impending doom, and the mixture of light and dark works beautifully.
And, while the final revelation of the episode has been done many times before, and doesn’t come as much of a shock when it arrives, the episode has afforded enough slack by this point that we have no choice to buy into its central conceit. The performances here are honest and endearing, and we can only hope that next week’s fallout can offer the same joys as Rich managed to.