Britain's 'Skins' Is a Revealing Teen Drama

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By Jen Chaney Staff Writer
Friday, January 16, 2009

"Skins" isn't just about teenagers getting drunk, doing drugs and having sex. But a lot of it is.

Volume one of the British series, which first aired in the United Kingdom in 2007 and was released on DVD this week in the United States, packs plenty of illicit activity (including nudity, bad language and explicit use of illegal substances) into each 42-minute episode. Frankly, it makes "controversial" American adolescent fare such as "Gossip Girl" or the new "90210" look like "Little House on the Prairie."

But that's not why "Skins" is worth watching. What makes this sometimes over-the-top, sharply observed and often laugh-out-loud funny teen soap so exceptional is the way its characters slowly reveal themselves to us.

The show introduces us to kids who, at first glance, seem irresponsible, empty-headed or just plain obnoxious. But with each episode, fresh layers are peeled away. We learn all the details about loopy Cassie (Hannah Murray) and her ongoing battle with an eating disorder. We come to understand the conflicted Anwar ("Slumdog Millionaire's" Dev Patel) and his struggle to reconcile his Muslim faith with his attachment to his best friend, who happens to be gay. And we start to see what makes the supremely cocky, handsome Tony (Nicholas Hoult, now the hot guy on campus instead of the preteen outcast he played in "About a Boy") treat his closest friends with such blatant disrespect. "Skins" dips its toes in a shallow pool at first, but by the end of the nine episodes in this first volume, its audience is wading decidedly in the deep end.

The three-disc DVD set comes with a modest number of extras, including 25 minutes of intermittently engaging video diaries recorded by the characters and 45 minutes of ancillary storylines that were cut from the episodes. Those deleted scenes, particularly a pair of corkers set in the school's career office, provide some of the show's funniest moments and will be especially appreciated by those who caught "Skins" when it aired on BBC America. (Devotees may be less jazzed, however, when they realize that the final moment of this volume of the series -- featuring members of the cast singing a tear-jerking version of Cat Stevens's "Wild World" -- has been excised from the DVD because of music rights issues. Major bummer.)

Given the aforementioned graphic nature of the content, some parents may have reservations about letting their high-schoolers view this DVD. Obviously, that's a call each mom or dad must make. All I can say is that "Skins" shows and tells all, but in a way that doesn't glorify the parade of hormonally charged bad behavior. The show is just honest, and that's something that all of us, age aside, can appreciate.

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