One of the reasons I got digital cable was to get the channel BBC America. British television almost works on a different level than its American counterpart. It's not that the British don't have their unwatchable clunkers or that the Americans don't have shining successes. It's that the best of the BBC's shining successes outshine America's so as to be buffed to a much higher shine and...be shinier...screw it, you know what I mean.
Those of you who've seen shows like Doctor Who or Jekyll or Torchwood know how common it is for the British to push norms and boundaries in ways that scare the crap out of most American TV producers. Oh sure, we have shows like Lost or Damages or The Shield but those are exceptions while the quality and daring storytelling of those shows has been the norm on the BBC for decades.
And we in the U.S. definitely don't have a show like Skins.
Skins comes out on DVD next month and you'll be doing yourself a great favor by renting or buying it. It's probably the best show about teenagers that's ever been made. It will quite literally make you laugh, cry and cheer, often all three at once. Skins came into being when an actual 18 year old teamed up with a veteran television producer and together they created a show that has realistic characters who have just enough drama in their lives to make them interesting to watch.
American shows about high school students usually have wealthy characters who, even though they're supposed to be around age 16, usually look like they clock in right around age 25. The main characters in Skins are all middle class (there are some well-off secondary characters) and the oldest actor was 20 when the show started. Thus we actually get teenagers on television who don't have the beginnings of crow's feet or receding hairlines.
The characters in Skins also regularly have sex. In America, if a kid takes drugs or has sex, they are almost always horribly punished by fate. When teenage characters in America have sex, they don't enjoy it at all and immediately regret doing it. Also, because these same characters are apparently the most fertile humans on the planet while having no immune system to speak of so they always get pregnant and contract STDs. On gruesome example of this happened on a recent episode of House. A girl on that show had sex, got pregnant and kept her pregnancy hidden from her friends and family. She had the baby in some abandoned home and developed a medical condition that, by the time it was diagnosed, had irreparably damaged her heart and liver so much that even House and his team couldn't save her so she died. Because, you know, SEX KILLS! It does in America, anyway. Skins, on the other hand, allows its characters to have what is often quite pleasurable sex without having their lives ruined because, most of the time, that's what actually freaking happens. Even when one of the girls does end up pregnant in the second season, while it is a dramatic situation, it's not treated as if God is punishing her.
The most interesting character is Cassie. Cassie is probably the best example of a realistic character being presented in a dramatic and interesting way. Cassie has been driven to emotional instability and anorexia by self-absorbed parents who don't really care about her. In the second episode, we're treated to a fascinating demonstration of all the tricks that anorexics use to make people think they are eating like the way she skillfully keeps talking during meals to distract you from the fact that she hasn't taken a bite of food. Like all the characters, there's much more to Cassie than that. She's probably the smartest of all the kids but her intellect is held back by what eventually evolves into clinical depression. You root for Cassie and hope that she can solve her problems and find the love and happiness she deserves.
One thing I haven't mentioned is that Skins is one of the funniest shows you will ever see. You laugh even when a character everyone likes dies or when another gets a brain injury or when a third goes into a self-destructive spiral. For instance, here's one of the best scenes in the whole series when the kids are rehearsing a play about 9/11 written by their pretentious theater teacher.
One of the best moves you'll ever make entertainment-wise will be to watch Skins so walk, don't run, to your nearest DVD store and get it. No, seriously, don't run. It's icy out this time of year and I'm sure they have plenty of copies. Oh, and get BBC America.