Spindle Log

December 2011, Spindle Magazine

Opening up my paper this morning, I’m immediately struck by a story about the sharp increase in sexual promiscuity in teenage girls between the ages of 14 and 24, replete with handy colour coded charts to track the degeneracy. Sadly, I shake my head and inwardly tut; my God, Skins has a lot to answer for.

There’s nothing guaranteed to make you feel quite so old as interviewing the current cast of Skins, many too young to watch when the original cast were on our screens. But now they are getting ready to graduate, with series six primed to air in the New Year.

“Everything is just 10 times worse. It’s sexier, it’s a lot more violent, it’s quite shocking at times and it’s a lot darker.“ Laya Lewis, who plays Liv, says.

“It’s such a different beast I think people are really going to be surprised, shocked and amazed by it,” Sean Teale (AKA Nick) agrees.

“It really deals with some serious issues from the get go. It’s like last series, but on heat.”

Not an idle threat from a show that has been accused throughout its five seasons of being a lightning rod for every issue that could possibly affect teens (and adults, for that matter, alike), from sexual promiscuity to drink and drug use to, er, getting your head beaten in with a bat by your crazed psychiatrist…  Not Freddie! Now you’ve gone a step too far, guys.

The current cast have more than kept the show’s reputation alive, with Laya playing some of the most graphic sex scenes Skins has shown to date, showing off her O-face on one of her first days of filming, and inspiring everyone from your local vicar to Peaches Geldof to lash out. So it was never going to be much of a surprise that the gritty drama didn’t translate to American audiences, lasting for only one season and ten episodes that saw viewing figures rapidly diminishing throughout.  “I think in the States they were too sensitive and they weren’t willing to see the grittiness that can occur. It doesn’t mean it always does and the show doesn’t glorify these things, but it does show what can occur,” Sean tells me.

What perhaps some people are willing to overlook, amidst their knickers-in-a-bunch moral outrage, is the possibility that the characters depicted are in fact a new generation of role models for ‘Broken Britain’s’ disenfranchised youths, as Laya points out. “I think from the first ever series they can be seen as role models because role models aren’t just there to be looked up to, but can also make you feel much better about yourself… You forget that everyone was 15 at some point so everyone has been through this stage. It doesn’t mean you were literally sleeping around or taking drugs, but it is going on and it always probably will be.” Which is where that ‘heightened teen drama’ tag line comes in handy; Skins may not be indicative of teenagers today but it does help chronicle some of the darker sides of growing up that plenty will experience. Would the program (which has now inspired a film) be such a success if, in some way, it wasn’t realistic and relatable?

“People usually ask, ‘Do you think Skins is a bad influence on teenagers?’ and I think it’s a tired question in a way. Not that it’s not relevant, but in a way I think it is a little bit, because it gets away from what the show is really about, which is a group of kids growing up in their last few years together and trying to figure out who they are.  The issues that are presented in the show are current and are accessible to the people that watch them and people relate to them.” Alex Arnold (who plays Rich Hardbeck) argues.

It’s important to take into account the impact of Skins from the other side of the camera too. The program prides itself on its veracity, which comes from the collective insight from a young team, as Alex says.  “There are first time writers, directors producers, so it’s a very young show in terms of how its run and I think that’s really important. I think giving new kids opportunities is so important, really, because it’s such a hard industry to get into.” Not only that, but Skins’ soundtracks have become a platform to launch the careers of many indie bands. Show of hands if you’re old enough to remember the days before ‘Standing in the Way of Control’.

But with this cast on their way out, will there be another one enrolling at Roundview College, or has Skins dragged out the controversy for long enough; after all, at what point does it cease to become ground breaking television and start to become Corrie? “I think it’s an iconic show but everything has its time after a while. You want it to go out with a bang. I don’t know if they’re going to get in another group after us. I think there’s only so much you can do,” Laya says.

Whether you take anything from the show, even if it was just an evening’s entertainment, condemn it, or simply dismiss it as an inauthentic representation of today’s teens, there’s no denying the resounding impact that Skins has had on at least a few generations of teens.  Where were we before rave make up hit Topshop? Thank you series one.