Fat Tony: MTV does Skins

You know what I’m sick of? British TV shows. The budget is small, they run for about 3 episodes a season and get cancelled after a year and a half, the whole cast is ugly, and they all talk in completely different and equally incomprehensible accents. Sometimes the premise is good, maybe some elements of the story and the script work quite well, but by the time the credits roll (far too early – where are the commercial breaks?) I’m always left feeling a little empty. You may disagree, but I’m not alone, and I thank Christ for the producers in the United States who understand how I and others like me feel. If they spot a grain of potential in Britain’s television output, do they lazily just take it and screen it overseas to a new audience? Of course not. They realise what a hopelessly cheap and unattractive product they have on their hands, compared to their native shows, and so they decide to give it the coat of thick gloss it needs and deserves. A few million dollars down the line, British television can finally stand proud (albeit with an entirely new cast and crew), safe in the arms of a superior industry.

The latest show to be adopted, Oliver-Twist-like, by rich and successful American TV, is the Bristolian teen drama Skins. MTV acquired the rights and have been busy making their own version. Recently they released a trailer for it, giving us a pretty good look at what this new show is going to be like, and I have examined it with my laser eye of appraisal to see how good a job they did.

Did you enjoy Skins, but were annoyed that Tony wasn’t American? Did you have similar feelings about Sid, Michelle, and indeed every other character? MTV’s Skins is the show for you.

The trailer begins with a random collage of sexy images. Cheerleaders! Boobs! Party!

Also,this nudey lady! By the way – apologies for the thing in the upper left corner, it’s on the YouTube video and I’d be damned if I was going to go to the trouble of figuring out if there was a way to remove it.

She seems to be exchanging glances with this bellend:

Here he is in bed. You might remember that in the original, Tony slept in a very tightly tucked-in bedspread depicting a man and a woman in their birthday suits. It’s still very tightly tucked-in, but Stateside Tony prefers colourful spiders. He probably thinks that naked people on a bedspread is a bit vulgar, and quite right too.

Also, who sleeps directly between two pillows? If you answered, “Tony from the original Skins” you may award yourself a point. Then he has a phone conversation with his special lady-friend, Michelle. By now you may be noticing a certain amount of similarity in the characters’ names in the US version compared to the original.

We start to get a little bit of plot, which shows about as much innovation as their approach to character names, insofar as it’s exactly the same as in the original Skins. Tony is trying to get his friend laid, in this case named ‘Stanley’ rather than Sid. Sid looked scruffy and morose in a kind of adorable way; Stanley looks like he spends all his time cooped up in his room watching porn, drooling into his cereal, and ignoring the cries of his parents. To be fair that’s basically what Sid did, but somehow he made it endearing. Stanley is the sort of kid you’d be compelled to steal lunch money from.

Having been told he’s finally going to get his rocks off, he lifts his bedcovers and utters the immortal line, “Did you hear that, Mr Happy?” (in the original this line is actually funny – “Tonight, Mr Happy – the furry city.”) For some reason he’s got a large orange stain on the side of his mouth, it looks like he’s been eating curry paste.

Then there’s some random shots of a “bitchin” party, just to remind us that this show is a lot of fun and it has parties in it. Then some more plot, again lifted from the original, involving weed and a drug dealer, although I doubt he’s still called “Mad Twatter” like he used to be. Here is a shot of him kindly doing up Stanley’s flies for him.

This moves into a glimpse at Tony’s home life. MTV have decided not to cast established comic actors as all the parents, so instead of Harry Enfield, Tony’s dad is played by American Man #57, who looks so generic I didn’t even bother to take a screenshot of him. Tony is playing his music too loud and won’t turn it down, and his Dad tells him “You think I’m your bitch, don’t you?” (Harry Enfield preferred “You take me for a complete James Blunt, don’t you?”).

We’re introduced to a new character. The UK’s Cassie has become “Cadie”, although maybe she’s called Katie and it just sounds like Cadie because of their weird accents. As before, she’s a basket case and she’s in love with Sid/Stanley, although it’s a bit less believable this time around because Stanley is as attractive as a bum rash. She bounces around on a trampoline being quirky and then declares that she’s taken loads of pills and has to be rushed to hospital. She doesn’t once say “oh wow” in the trailer, which is a departure from the old Cassie, who said it every three seconds as an uncontrollable tic.

Another barrage of crazy youthy images comes next, including an exciting shot of this girl pulling a lever on a dirty wall. Then there’s some more footage of the sort of party I’ve never been to.

We’re reaching the end of the trailer – all the kids are in a car, shouting worriedly. This sequence, like pretty much everything in this trailer, appeared in the first episode of the original Skins. If you remember, that episode ended with the car driving into a river. It looked like this:

The new American Skins has an interesting twist on this climax. In MTV’s version, this is what happens:

You’ll notice that in this case the car is blue. And I don’t remember seeing that white building in the original, do you?

The title comes up (it’s called Skins), and then there’s the little bonus extra few seconds of footage they like to put on the end of trailers: a few more flashes of some party people dancing, and then the above shot of them all sitting around looking bedraggled. The shirtless guy says “Good party”, a line I don’t remember hearing anywhere except the first episode of the UK’s teen drama Skins. And that’s it.

It’s obvious, but this is worth emphasising: MTV’s Skins, or at least the first episode, is very nearly exactly the same as Channel 4’s Skins. Every plot point, and almost all the lines, are from the original, and that’s just in the trailer. It’s like looking into a strange parallel universe where a producer from MTV stole Bryan Elsley’s script for the pilot and flew it overseas before the original could ever be made. Making something so astonishingly similar begs a couple of questions:

First of all, why? Skins is not interesting because of the gripping Sid’s-virginity plotline or its unflinching depiction of a weird drug dealer. It’s supposed to be a smart, witty show about modern life as a teenager, an appeal the original trailers grasped, concentrating entirely on the atmosphere. Surely the obvious thing to do would be to try to capture the same spirit in a new setting, with new characters and plot – show the American version of teenage life. What is the worth of this carbon-copy? The first series of Skins is less than 4 years old and is widely available on DVD.

Secondly, keeping it so similar just highlights all the changes they have made, which now seem like unnecessary tampering rather than originality. Maxxie has been turned into a lesbian cheerleader, everyone looks too old, the jokey lines have been subtly altered so as to be unfunny – basically everything seems flat and charmless.

If the YouTube comments are anything to go by, everyone in the world agrees with me. Just a quick sample from the first page: “America has no taste whatsoever”, “Please tell me this is some kind of practical joke”, “What is the point”, “it’s gonna bloow”, “this shit pisses me off”, and my favourite, “This show is a farce in the realest sense.” If you continue to scroll through the pages the tone is pretty much the same. There seems to be no YouTube commenter philistine enough to be impressed by it, and I thought that was basically impossible.

Come January next year we’ll find out whether the show was horribly misrepresented by the trailer, turning out to be the best thing since sliced The Wire. Currently it looks like they managed to take an unusual, vibrant show and turn it into generic dross without even really changing anything, an impressive feat but a fucking shame in the realest sense. Listen, America: watch our television the way it is. We don’t feel the need to re-make Mad Men as a show about 1960s fast-talking Oxford Street habadashers (or something), we just watch it how it was made because it’s great that way. Please return the favour.

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    • daniella
    • January 25th, 2011

    Found your website and it was intresting,
    if you saw the second episode of the US version of Skins a secret love affair has risen between Tea and Tony. Does anything like this happen in the British version or does the US Skins seem to be turning into another story.What’s your guy’s opinion over this??????
    🙂

      • JB
      • January 25th, 2011

      I had no idea who ‘Tea’ was but I looked it up, and it turns out this is the new sexy-lady version of Maxxie, who in the original series is a gay man and therefore not a likely person for Tony to have an affair with. Anyway isn’t ‘Tea’ supposed to be a lesbian, what’s she doing smooching up Tony? Anyway yeah they seem to be taking this particular story into uncharted waters. good luck to em.

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