There are many things that make English television better than American television. Mostly, it is a lack of censorship; American TV loves violence but hates sex, drugs and profanity. English TV loves them all equally, and luckily for us, by the good graces of YouTube and Netflix, we can indulge in their programming. But now Skins is officially here, debuting on MTV this evening as a virtual copy of the U.K. original. Except this edition is more like a copy of a copy, feeling like a bland repeat of the salacious teen drama. The biggest problem? MTV removed the boobs.
Yes, the U.K. edition of Skins was softcore in nature, and that was part of the appeal. But a lot more is missing than just a dozen or so cheap boob shots per show. On the whole, the debut episode of American Skins is hollow. The main character, Tony, is as handsome as his English contemporary, but gone is the malice in his eyes. Gone is his flippant disregard for any human life other than his own. He even seems uncomfortable with his selfish behavior, and a lack of a believable balance of deviance and sexual chemistry between Tony and his girlfriend, Michelle, have us wondering why we should even love or hate them.
And though the characters of Tony and Michelle (and drug-head Chris) get to keep their names from the original version, the more English-sounding kids have become Americanized: Sid becomes Stanley, Cassie becomes Cadie, Jal becomes Daisy, Effy becomes Eura, Anwar becomes Abbud -- and the most devastating change is that Maxxie, the cutie gay club kid, becomes Tea, a girl cheerleader who wears a Bluetooth. Even the super-hot Katy Perry lookalike teacher- and student-banger Angie becomes the dowdy, sobbing Tina.
On a deeper level, the Americanized Skins' dialogue feels forced. Is this really the way American teenagers talk? Or is the real problem that there is no feasible way to translate a script that has "wanker," "tosser" and "spliff" interjected every fourth word? Maybe if the show wasn't a virtual scene-for-scene remake of the U.K. original, it could allow for some breathing room so the natural edginess of high-school behavior could flourish, American style.
Also, Skins is awkward when run back-to-back with Jersey Shore, a place where boring banter between real-life "characters" is only silenced when someone has a bottle of booze in his or her mouth. This American Skins doesn't seem to align with MTV's vanilla sort-of reality programming anyway; there isn't enough drinking and screaming and pregnancy and fighting happening on the show to fit the channel's trashy persona. Somehow, Skins U.K.'s trashiness was still sexy, and it is partly to do with that version's blatant drug use. American Skins just entails weed, and weed, for the most part, has got nothing on the sex appeal of pills.
If Skins was on MTV a decade ago, it would have done quite nicely up against the late-night cult classic Undressed -- one of the greatest softcore shows of all time (not to mention one of the greatest MTV shows ever). But since Undressed will never rise from the programming dead, can MTV at least relax a little and give Tony his naked people bedsheets back from the U.K. version? That way we can pretend there is still some nudity left.