11th Aug2013

Monday Musings – Skins Series 7 and the Close of a Franchise

by Will

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I’ve written about my love of the UK drama Skins in the past, so it should come as no surprise that I did whatever I had to in order to see the recent seventh, and final, season of the show. After watching those 6 episodes, all I can say is “Holy God, was that dour!”

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First, let me describe Skins for the uninitiated. It’s similar to Degrassi, only they pull out all the stops. It would be better described as a TV adaptation of Larry Clark’s movie Kids. It follows the lives of a group of middle class Britons as they come of age. There are three “generations” of the show, loosely related, and each comprised of two seasons. The show has served as a springboard for the careers of actors like Nicholas Hoult (X-Men: First Class) and Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire).

At its core, the message of Skins is essentially “Growing Up Is Hard”. Teens today are, arguably, exposed to more sex and drugs than prior generations. The show also tackled issues like divorce, bankruptcy, coming out, teen pregnancy, the death of a parent, and more. While the show was never saccharine enough to utter “It gets better”, that always seemed like the implied, underlying message. A character would die (usually the happiest member of the group of friends), but another would later give birth, showing that life goes on and good things do happen. Then series 7 came along.

A lot can happen in two years. Two years ago, the hit series was about to be adapted for American television, and there were plans for a Skins movie. Over the course of those years, however, ratings dropped, the American version was critically panned and canceled after one season, and the plans for the movie were canceled. It was rumored that the movie would’ve linked all of the season’s together, and answered questions that those seasons had posed. It was soon announced that there would be a seventh, final season which would instead serve as the place to answer unanswered questions. The season would have a different format than those in the past, as it would be comprised of three, separate two-episode stories: “Fire”, “Pure”, and “Rise”. With a heavy focus on the second generation cast, “Fire” would follow Effy Stonem as she tries to make her way in the world of finance; “Pure” would focus on first generation’s Cassie as she tries to reacclimate to London after having spent the last few years in America; “Rise” would focus on Cook, and what he’s been up to since the final, pulse-pounding scene of generation two. In theory, this is intriguing, but not in execution. Since these take place years after we last saw the characters, they’ve gone from teen problems right into quarterlife crises. None of them seem to be handling that well.

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In “Fire”, Effy turns out to be a financial prodigy, and couples that with her feminine wiles to become a hedge fund trader. At first, this seems a bit implausible, but then you have to remember something about Effy: she spent the entirety of season one not speaking. She spent quite a bit of her adolescent years just listening and observing. There’s no telling what she learned over time. As for the feminine wiles, they were responsible for the death of one of her suitors, so she’s definitely got the Stonem Sexual Charisma going for her. While her fate is fitting for her situation, it’s not necessarily fitting for the character. Considering she’s been part of the Skins franchise longer than anyone (4 series/2 generations), I expected more for her. For the emotional beats, her roommate is fellow Generation Two castmember, Naomi, who’s trying to embark on a career as a standup comic. For all you “Naomily” shippers, she’s still dating Emily, who’s currently in New York City. All of Naomi’s plans, however, are derailed when she gets some serious health news.

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In “Pure”, Cassie returns to London, as it’s implied that she just ended her relationship with Sid. When asked about it, she says that if she hadn’t done it, “it would’ve been forever”, so she wasn’t ready for that kind of commitment. While working in a cafe, she discovers that one of her coworkers has been secretly photographing her and posting the pics online. They catch they eye of a modeling scout, and she starts to moonlight as a model, putting a strain on her budding relationships with two different coworkers.

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“Rise” was the installment that EVERYONE was waiting for, as we’ve been wondering about Cook’s fate since the finale of season 4. Preparing to avenge the murder of his friend, Freddie, we just see him charge at the camera before it fades to black. He clearly survived, but what happened? Don’t look for too many answers to that question. It’s addressed briefly, and then we’re on to the rest of the story. He’s currently a courier for a drug dealer, and he ends up on the run after he has sex with the dealer’s girlfriend.

As you probably could tell, the biggest problem with the season is sequence. Both “Fire” and “Rise” are DARK, while “Pure” is the only one that ends with a glimmer of hope. I understand they needed to load the end with “Rise” for a strong ratings finish, but it causes the entire franchise to end on such a dark note. I mean, a character is hanged in episode 6! It should’ve aired as “Fire”, “Rise”, “Pure”, just so it ends on the same underlying optimism that the series embodied. If not that sequence, “Fire” could’ve aired last, as it says goodbye to the longest tenured cast member. “Rise”, however, was a terrible finale to both the season and the franchise, undermining everything the show had built over the years.

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It’s been said that, supported by decent ratings, Skins might return again someday, albeit in a “different format”, whatever that means. I think it certainly has the staying power of Degrassi, as there will always be teenagers, and they all handle the same issues differently. Should the franchise return, I hope show creators Bryan Elsley and Jamie Brittain remember to infuse some hope into things. Through all that the casts went through, they still found whatever they needed to carry on. With the exception of “Pure”, that spirit isn’t present in most of series 7, and that’s a shame.