(make sure you read the entire piece. i've updated my harsh take and moderated it after reading some thoughts of Bryan Elsley, co-creator of the original Skins)
Many of you know that I'm a huge fan of Skins, a British show about the extreme lives of teenagers. I was introduced to the show by a friend in Boston back in late 2007 or early 2008. He handed me some CD-ROMs with video files on them and said, "Watch this. You're gonna love it." He was absolutely right. It's safe to say I became obsessed. I actually made a digital mixtape of nearly all the music in Season 1 as a gift for a fellow fan. That's 110 tracks, people!
My short description of the show is that it's a cross between Gossip Girl and Kids, that is silly, meaningless, lighthearted combined with soul-crushing, heart-breaking super depressing. The adults are caricatures, and the teens are completely out of hand. In general, the show is dark. No one is happy. These kids have a non-stop string of seriously heavy problems, and the only way they make it through is with each other. Oh, and drugs, lots and lots of drugs.
While it's not a reality show, it has a realistic feel for the way it takes on heavy issues: homosexuality, parental neglect, pregnancy, a broken education system, to name a few. The music is stellar, and for a while was my primary way of discovering artists. The writing is sharp, with much of it done by actual teenagers, and it's hilarious.
Now MTV looks like it's going to ruin it with a U.S. version of the show, airing in January 2011. Check out this extended trailer and exclusive clip in the player below. It's in multiple parts, so wait through all the segments before continuing.
When I first heard MTV was doing a U.S. version, I was of course terrified that they would bollocks it up, as the Brits might say. They might tone it down due to standards and practices differences between the U.S. and U.K., or it would be too cute or it just might not work at all in an American context.
A small part of me thought it could be done well, because every teen life across the world probably has some element of Skins in it. I even dreamed of getting a bit part in the U.S. series because I'm that obsessed.
What I never imagined was that the U.S. version would simply copy the U.K. version!
Yes, from the looks of the above sneak peak, the U.S. version of Skins manages to cut and paste characters, relationships, interactions and actual shots from the first season of the U.K. version. The only difference I can see right now is that MTV's Skins has cheerleaders in it.
Here are a few examples.
In the above trailer, you hear what sounds like sex but, as the camera pulls back and pans across some trees, the sound is revealed to be that of two kids jumping on a trampoline. That scene was in the UK version at 06:32 in this clip. That is one of the defining scenes in the UK Skins and is unique to the characters and their situation. Sid is an awkward kid who can't get laid. He's obsessed with his best friend Tony and Tony's girlfriend Shel and has been "given" Cassie as a virginity-breaking gift.
Cassie is the most compelling teenage character I've ever seen in a show. She's painfully beautiful and strikingly sad, and you cannot simply cut and paste her from the UK to America! While teens across societies share a lot in common, each person is uniquely a product of her genes, social influences and era. Cassie cannot be recreated. She's a one-of-a-kind phenomenon, and it shows a severe lack of imagination on the part of the MTV team to try and airdrop that product of history and society and timing and madness onto U.S. television sets.
At 02:58 in this clip we have another scene cribbed (if you will, MTV) from the original involving a car full of kids falling into a river or pond. It's actually the same shot, people. Come on, now!
There are more offenses: The Mad Twatter drug dealer character (aka Madison), and Tony's buffoon of a father and argh!! They even have a Muslim kid in the group, which means something very different in American than in the UK, I think.
I hope the entire season doesn't continue in this ripoff style, and that got me thinking about how The Office was imported to America. Here's what the Burnside Writer's Collective had to say at the time:
The first episode of the U.S. version of The Office aired last Thursday after The Apprentice, and was basically a scene for scene replication of the first British episode with some heavy-handed Americanization. Viewers familiar with the original were able to compare and contrast directly: “That scene was much funnier on the British version” or “Steve Carrell pulled that scene off pretty well”. As a result, the first episode of the American Office was better than I’d predicted. I laughed a few times and groaned a few times. I came away with an overall hope that the American version could be pretty good, but probably would not approach the comedic mastery and raw emotion of the original
The second episode, however, marked a departure from the British script, and the American writers were forced to dive off on their own in search of comedic laughs. They failed.
I know that part of the reason I love Skins is that it is a British show. The language and accents and pacing are all very British and absolutely not American. The fact that I don't understand everything is part of the obsession.
With a US version, I won't have that same distance, and I'm nervous that they're just going to crap all over it, especially seeing them attempt the direct translation as the preview shows. I'm even more nervous that Americans never exposed to the original will think the crappier US version is amazing!
The Office gives me a glimmer of hope. I was a huge UK Office fan and thought the initial US version was terrible. Then, it found its legs and its own voice, and I fell in love all over again. I never expected that to happen, and I hope MTV can do the same with Skins. I don't expect it, but I have to hope.
Worst case scenario: I keep bootlegging the UK version. Series 5 is coming soon!
If you want to see why I'm so crazed about this show, the first three series of Skins are available in Netflix instant streaming. Do it!
Update @14:37 on 23 October 2010
Just got a tweet from @natthedem pointing me to Bryan Elsley's twitter stream. Brian has written on 35 episodes of the UK version and is the co-creator of the show, and this tweet and this tweet bolster my Keep Hope Alive perspective on the U.S. show. Here's the combination of several tweets from Bryan
So: to be clear. The First series of Skins USA will start similar and get VERY DIFFERENT to the UK Show. Walk first then run. We are about USA writers and USA stories. Most young people here have never seen Skins. It's for them really. Eventually it wil be all new.
We're all nervous. Young writers need to grow and then take control of their own stories. We're making space for that. Try it maybe?. Finally, I hope I am old enough to take a bit of flack. It's fine. I am always just glad that people actually care.
I feel a lot better, and will definitely give the show many, many episodes to find its own way and win me over. Also, for the record, this show is not for me! I realize I'm not the target audience, but that's also been the fun of discovering Skins. I'll reserve further judgment until the series has actually aired.