From the very outset Skins set out to shock, on both sides of the Atlantic. Following on from a slick and successful social media campaign engineered via My Space and using its own fan site, this teen soap based in Bristol, England premiered in 2007 on British cable channel E4. If you saw the film ‘About A Boy’ with Hugh Grant starring alongside the winsome and adorable young ‘boy’ of the title , then you would be forgiven for not recognizing the same actor, Nicholas Hoult in the British pilot show of Skins, all grown up and stretched out into the distinctly unlovable, cocksure teenager Tony. While Tony goes all out in subsequent episodes to establish his reputation as a ‘love em and leave em’ hormone fuelled bad boy, the drama also deals with homosexuality, teenage sex, drug misuse, eating disorders – and every vice supposedly indulged in by teenagers in the ‘real’ world of 21st Century Britain.
Skins employs all available teen clichés, throws them into the idiot box, (English street speak for the TV), then throws in some more. As controversial as ever, each series has a change of cast – the 16 and 17 year old actors are only hired for the two years spent in the sixth form of their fictional high school, and open auditions in Bristol has young people clamouring to appear in the show. A Skins UK film premieres in the summer of 2011.
Though an edited English version has aired on BBC America - with some strong language and violence cut out - an American version of Skins was launched by MTV in January 2011. Based on the original UK storylines, though with some changes of character (for example showing two girls kissing in the trailer for the show), there was an arguably predictable and strong reaction from many sections of American society to the blatantly racy and ‘out there’ nature of the drama.
Whether or not your average teenager from either side of the pond actually acts like those in the controversial broadcast brand that is Skins is debatable. Unlike the US version, the original British drama does not bleep out swear words and blatantly plays with every parent’s fears of out of control teenagers fuelled with illegal drugs, alcohol and sexual temptation. This generation of bright young things is also now afforded the convenience of online social networks to organize wild parties for all and sundry - well, providing they’re buff and under twenty – both in an early episode of the show, and in so called copycat incidents by British teenagers on My Space.
No doubt on both sides of the Atlantic apologists for Skins will say this is authentic and how teenagers truly behave – meanwhile its claims of credibility will be stretched to breaking point by all who watch it. Though as the mother of teenage sons, that may just be my wishful thinking!
Skins, Vol. 1 [DVD] US
Skins - Series 5 [DVD]  UK
Eileen O'Sullivan recommends these DVDs from Amazon US and Amazon UK of the original British teen soap, Skins. She watched the show on British Television.