"Skins," the Americanized version of an edgy British hit drama about hard-partying teens obsessed with sex, booze and drugs, debuts on MTV tonight. That presents a tricky proposition for this critic, who happens to be several decades removed from high school and is, simultaneously, a parent of a teen.
Here's the deal: Come down too hard on a teen soap and you risk being labeled a curmudgeonly spoilsport. Even worse, there's a chance you'll be viewed by youngsters (including your son) as hopelessly out of touch -- a clueless old dude who just "doesn't get it."
But even clueless old dudes are able to see (with their bifocals on) when a show is poorly acted, clumsily executed and overflowing with dreary characters. Unfortunately, that's the problem plaguing "Skins."
The series revolves around an adolescent working-class clique led by Tony (James Newman). He's handsome, cocky and manipulative -- the kind of kid who gets away with way too much. Some may find his shtick endearing. Others will find it grating.
Also in the group are Stanley (Daniel Flaherty), a slovenly, shaggy-haired virgin, and Michelle (Rachel Thevenard), Tony's totally hot girlfriend. Naturally, Stan has a secret crush on Michelle.
Then there's Tea (Sofia Black-D'Elia), a cute cheerleader who likes girls, Abbud (Ron Mustafaa), a not-so-devout Muslim, Cadie (Britne Oldford), a spaced-out druggie, Chris (Jesse Carere), the party-loving goofball, Eura (Eleanor Zichy), the mysterious silent-type, and Daisy (Camille Cresencia-Mills), the most responsible member of the gang.
When the original "Skins" made its 2007 debut across the pond, it generated substantial buzz for its frank scenes tied to sex, substance abuse, unwanted pregnancies and eating disorders. Bolstered by young writers and a raw cast of unknowns, it delighted in pushing broadcast boundaries.
In adapting the show for American television, MTV has maintained much of its grit while making a few compromises. There still is plenty of risque behavior -- without immediate consequences -- but the profanity has been curbed. (The show carries a TV-MA, meaning it's intended for viewers 18 and over, though the Parents Television Council has accused MTV of marketing the show to young teens).
Tonight's opener mainly deals with Tony's underhanded attempts to help Stan lose his "V card" and a drug deal gone bad. It's difficult for me not to experience the episode as a parent. You see Tony relentlessly displaying contempt for authority, the adult characters being depicted as morons (an unfortunate trait of many teen shows), and the kids trashing someone's house during a party, and you want to reach inside the screen to bust a few heads.
But kids will be kids, right? And it's not like we haven't witnessed reckless or rebellious action on "Gossip Girl." This show does not signal the coming of the Apocalypse.
What's more bothersome about "Skins" from a critical standpoint is the thin plotting, the aimless narrative, and the generally flat and artificial feel of the production. Frank teen stories have been presented much more skillfully in shows like "My So-Called Life" and "Degrassi."
But don't go thinking these weaknesses will doom "Skins" to failure. It's getting a huge promotional push from MTV, and the show clearly contains its share of voyeuristic thrills.
All of which means it could be a great big hit, no matter what any clueless old dudes might think.
WHEN: 10 p.m. Monday