on MTV’s controversial show, SKINS. He also explores two of the cast members’ Jersey roots.
With television saturated by so-called “reality” shows, MTV cheerfully bathes in it from head to toe. At any given time on any given day, shows such as True Life, Teen Mom, The Real World, and (ugh) Jersey Shore can be seen and have, in a sense, become the network’s standard in terms of programming. But when it was announced that it was producing Skins, few could have anticipated such a myriad of hype and controversy about a hand-me down drama from England about teens up to their eyeballs in sex and drugs. Forget its other show The Hard Times of RJ Berger (whose geeky high school protagonist has the endowment of John Holmes); Skins seemed to have a bulls eye on it from the get-go. After its initial airing, major sponsors pulled their ads and the Parents Television Council (PTC) called for its cancellation, citing that the nudity amongst its cast was dangerously near child pornography (despite the brief nude scenes, it never becomes graphic or sexual in context) since most of its cast was under the age of 18. But if you look past all the cries of denouncement, one would find that MTV has finally put on a good show, but one that seems destined for a brief life.
Using a talented cast of unknowns (including New Jersey natives Sofia Black D’Elia and Daniel Flaherty), the show follows the lives of a small clique of teens with a penchant for anything bad. From scoring legal and illegal drugs to switching sexual partners on a dime, this is KIDS (that cult classic from 1995) for the new millennium, but with more sympathetic characters than their New York counterparts (hell, even more sympathy than those Jersey Shore clowns). Stanley (Flaherty) is the group’s warm heart and soul, an aloof kid with marijuana smoke for brains who is torn between his best friend’s girlfriend and his own girlfriend, all of whom carry their own sorts of baggage. Meanwhile, Tea (D’Elia) is an open lesbian who questions her sexuality after a forbidden tryst with her friend’s boyfriend Tony, the clique’s macho leader whose swagger is only matched by his appetite for destruction, sometimes at the cost of his own friends. Along with the group, the show features subplots as a student-teacher relationship, a disastrous class trip into the woods, homelessness, and ill-equipped parents either not ready to deal with their kids or are too busy being kids themselves. For one hour each week, all of these ingredients are stirred together to give people a reason to forget “reality” shows and see a grossly (but not too distorted) view of why teenagers are revered and abhorred in today’s society. Every teenager seems to have feelings of superiority and invincibility and combined with irresponsibility and a lack of remorse, nothing good can come of this which is what the show demonstrates.
With Jersey Shore as its lead-in, Skins seemed to be a guaranteed success, not to mention the heavy promotion the network put behind it. But with its numbers far below expectations and the viewers dwindling week by week, the fate of the show (at the time of this writing) was still up in the air. An online petition was formed in the hopes of keeping it alive at least for another season if not more. While MTV thrives on controversy, the backlash may have worked against it. Is the show racy? Yes, but it never crosses over into sleaze territory, and those who have cried foul over the show’s depiction of sex and drugs failed to realize that the show never glamorizes or promotes it. Whatever the outcome, Skins has introduced NJ’s own D’Elia and Flaherty into the mainstream; two actors who are sure to become stars sooner or later. Let’s hope sooner.