Sunday, August 17, 2008

Skins, "Tony" & "Cassie": Horny guy, hungry girl

Spoilers for the first two episodes of "Skins" coming up just as soon as I play with my food...

As I discussed in my column on Friday, I'm really glad I got to see more than the first episode of "Skins," and that BBC America was wise enough to show these two back to back.

By itself, "Tony" suggests a kind of show I'm not sure I would have much patience for, in an old man, "Get off my lawn, ya punks!" sort of way, that it's just going to be another tale of kids gone wild and the adults too clueless to understand or control them. Even though "Cassie" opens up with the kids waking up after a night of unsupervised hedonism, it quickly makes clear that the show doesn't have one specific worldview, or one specific style. The surreal qualities of "Cassie" provide a stark and intriguing contrast to the sniggering farce of sexual manners of "Tony," and made me look back on the first episode in a new light.

Outside of occasional interludes like the guys in the locker room with a naked Angie, "Cassie" is told so clearly from the point of view of its title character that it made me re-examine "Tony" and realize that this must be what life looks like through his eyes. He's young, he's handsome, he's clever and talented and can talk his way out of trouble, and he's got a hot girlfriend whose self-esteem is low enough that he can treat her shabbily (calling her "Nips" over her repeated protests, for instance) and she won't mind. Why wouldn't he view life as a never-ending party? Why wouldn't he assume that every woman, of every age, wants him?

"Cassie," meanwhile, unfolds with the logic of a dream. We don't know what's happened, how Cassie found herself in this place, or, initially, what that gooey substance dripping off her hands is. As often happens on this show, it seems, we're supposed to think of sex first when the real answer is something stranger or more innocent, like a massive food fight. It isn't clear at first that Cassie is hallucinating all those "EAT!" messages, but there comes a point where you begin to question the reality of anything happening here. Is Alan the cab driver even real? If so, is he really so sweet and innocent in his affection for Cassie, or is he a dirty old man and she's too hungry and tired to notice? Are her parents really the oblivious but well-meaning nymphomaniacs we see, or has Cassie chosen to view them entirely through that lens? Does she even really take a bite of that pub burger at the end?

Once I got past the point of view issue, I really grew to like the show's narrative and visual style, and the performances by most of these young actors. (One of the reasons Tony irritates me so much is because Nicholas Hoult is really good at playing that type of boy.) There's a playfulness to it that undercuts all the OMFG/end-times nature of the trouble the kids get into, like the way everybody's busy watching Anwar fail to pee when the car starts rolling into the harbor, or the way the one black student (is he Jal's brother?) shifts back into a proper British accent when none of the kids can decipher his hip-hop patois.

Some people who have seen the entirety of the series claims it falls off in quality after the first few episodes, or after the first season. (BBC America is going to show both seasons consecutively over the next few months.) I don't know -- and, as I did with "Doctor Who," I'm going to ask that nobody discuss or even allude to any plot details from episodes that have yet to air in America, or I'll delete those comments and get very cross -- but I'm intrigued to find out.

Some other thoughts on these two episodes:

• Like I said in the review, the stuff with Mad(ison) Twatter worked largely because the character is so strange and so funny. I sure didn't expect to see him at Cassie's support group, but the guy's so skinny that it makes sense.

• Cassie's demonstration to Sid of how she keeps her parents from noticing that she doesn't eat was both brilliant and terrifying. I feel like I'm going to spend the next 15 years of my daughter's life with my eyes glued to her plate at the dining room table.

• Other than the bleeping and some of the pixellation in scenes like Angie in the locker room, the most obvious difference between the British telecasts and the BBC America versions is that they slap on the subtitles whenever someone's accent gets especially thick. I first remember encountering that technique when I was in college reviewing a British indie film called "Riff-Raff" (with a young Robert Carlyle), and the entire movie had to be subtitled, because even though it was all in English, the distributor feared (in that case, quite rightly) that nobody would understand the dialogue otherwise. I do like how the subtitles here aren't confined to the minority or working-class characters, but that they pop up whenever Tony's around the rich girl from the other school.

• One thing I didn't pay attention to when I watched the original cut of "Tony": the music. Was BBC America able to use the original soundtrack, or did they have to swap out a lot of the tracks?

• It's a good thing Chris has no idea what "Dawson's Creek" is, or else he'd be embarrassed to realize that his crush on Angie is uncomfortably close to the story where Pacey slept with the hot teacher. (But the story works beause, as with Mad, Angie is written almost entirely for laughs.)

• Given my love of "Freaks and Geeks," "Undeclared," Brian Krakow, et al, it should be no surprise that I really enjoyed all the stuff with Sid, and am looking forward to his spotlight episode.

What did everybody else think?

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

Having seen all 19 episodes, I was actually quite pleased with BBC America's airing of the first episode.

All the music was kept intact for "Tony." And I could live with the way they edited the profanity.

As I mentioned in your other post, the music on Skins is beyond phenomenal. It's like a vital charcter on the show.

I'm not normally a music person, but I went crazy seeking out the music after each episode aired in the UK.

But I was disappointed to hear that the DVD release in the UK, as well as the Canadian and Australian broadcasts contained all replacement music.

When I saw "Tony," and I was relieved. All the music was intact. (I've seen the DVD version of this episode, with replacement music.)

But then I saw "Cassie," and I'm annoyed. There was lots of replacement music for this episode.

For instance, in the UK version:

--"Cassie" opens with Mogwai's "Cody":
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R5YLkiqseSI

--In the taxi, the driver plays Ludacris' "Move Bitch":
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R5YLkiqseSI


--When Cassie is walking with her fingers, the song playing is Shuggie Otis' "Aht Uh Mi Hed":
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XoF98-nASco

--When Cassie runs away from Sid near the end the song that is playing is The Sleepy Jackson's "This Day":
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AyE6wYJhQWQ


The original music brings you closer to the characters, in contrast to the replacement music.


Other notes:

--They edited out Cassie's mom's completely naked body as her dad was painting her. (But I guess that's not significant.)


--For each episode, Skins also put online an "Unseen Skins" short video that fills out the story more.

Here's the "Unseen Skins" for Episode 1:

And here's the one for Episode 2:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jRO-92ok6mQ


One more thing: At the end of tonight's episode they showed the promo for Episode 5 of Skins, which is focused on Sid.

So I guess BBC America is airing the episodes out of order to get Sid in the rotation early, skipping over Jal, Chris, Maxxie and Anwar.

Anonymous said...

Oops, here's the Unseen Skins for Episode 1:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ymHz14LTQHo

Anonymous said...

I found the scene of Cassie walking with her fingers to Shuggie Otis on YouTube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hTN3loVrtdI

Myles said...

I'm with you on this one Alan, at least for now: the second episode showed a desire to expand outside of the "Ensemble Youth Comedy" stereotypes to something approaching a character study. It's the kind of thing that I wish a show like Greek, which I enjoy for what it is, would do more often: there's a complacency to this type of narrative in Hollywood, and I find that Skins is at least enough of a breath of fresh air for me to see it through.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and one final thing on the difference between the American and British version.

The theme song in the UK always runs before the show starts, whereas on BBC America they show the theme song after the opening scene.

Plus, the theme song (which I really love) has been chopped down to about 5-10 seconds.

Here's the original:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fdkqyEkxPNk

drake leLane said...

The omission of the music in the second episode is how it was in the screener. I was disappointed to say the least...

At least they worked on getting the music to the first episode, especially the song "Flesh and Bone" from Brendan Benson (used as they walked home drenched from the car 'accident').

My best guess is from here on out, nearly all songs that were used as score will be replaced. Meanwhile, songs used in a diegetic manner (ie, characters can hear it,) will probably make the cut. It's the least painful way to make cuts in the music budget.

clare328 said...

The black guy is Posh Kenneth, played by Daniel Kaluuya, one of the young writers of the show. He's not Jal's brother, though he has a crush on her, more a friend of Chris, Maxxie and Anwar's. He plays a bigger part in the online community. But yes, he's highly amusing. The thing I love about Skins is that there are these fringe characters, and they don't need to be important, but they still have an impact, because as a teen that's what it's like.

I personally like the second series better. It gets a LOT darker, but it fixed some of the problems from season one, and it finds a nice balance between the heavy stuff and the comedy.

Nevertheless, season one is still fantastic.

Dan said...

Subtitles? Dear oh dear. Are they actually warranted in Skins' case? Do subtitles pop up in Torchwood for the Welsh accents, or just the monsters as intended? :)

puddle-of-light said...

Personnally I don't think there's a drop in quality as you go along or in the second series and tend to think that people's disappointment really comes from the later episodes not focusing on their favourite character.

I had a giggle over the subtitles. Hopefully it helps "tune" your ears in. I can think of a few Amercian films that would have benefitted from the same treatment over here.

Anonymous said...

Daniel Kaluuya, aka the black guy in the cafeteria known as "Posh Kenneth," was 17 when he joined the Skins writing staff. He is the show's youngest writer and wrote Jal's Season 2 episode.

Alan, is there any chance BBC America could air the originally broadcast episodes with the original music?

Did they, by chance, buy the wrong music by mistake? Or can they buy the original episodes if Skins is successful?

Because the last two episodes of Season 2 end with such amazing music (that was replaced on the DVD) that it could totally change the experience of the show if it's not intact.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Did they, by chance, buy the wrong music by mistake? Or can they buy the original episodes if Skins is successful?

I'm sure it wasn't a mistake, but the same thing that often happens with shows that feature wall-to-wall music when they wind up on DVD or in another market. The producers no doubt secured rights to all those songs for the British airings only, where cutting a deal to include home video or foreign distribution might have become prohibitively expensive. It's the same reason why the "Wiseguy" DVDs don't feature the original music (including scenes where the music is explicitly referred to), why "The Wonder Years" will likely never be released on DVD, etc.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Other than Myles, it seems like every commenter so far has already watched the entire series in its original form.

Am I reading the room correctly, or are there more people who haven't commented but watched the show for the first time last night? How I approach future reviews (or if I approach them, to be honest) will depend on my sense of the audience here.

Rachel said...

I'm a new viewer! Your preview intrigued me (as did the Sunday NYT article.) I enjoyed the first two episodes -- especially the Cassie one. I'm intrigued to see what they do going forward.

Anonymous said...

and another new viewer!

and one who really enjoyed both of those episodes, the first one much more in retrospect after the second.

over most of the two hours i kept thinking "boy, if 90210-2 can get half of this show's spunk..."

Robert said...

I find it really disappointing that in this modern age, rights holders and creators can't reach a deal early on to secure music licensing knowing their work is going to end up on DVD and in other international markets.

As for the Series 1 vs. Series 2 debate:
Back when I started Series 1, I devoured it, and blogged every episode. By the time Series 2 rolled around, I lost the motivation to write about it, and still haven't watched the final 4 episodes. Don't really know how to explain it, but I definitely think there was a drop off. Though I do finally want to finish it.

drake leLane said...

I've only seen the first three episodes(screeners,) but I also have a cheat sheet of all the impressive music that appeared in the first season.

joy said...

I'm a completely new viewer. And, oddly, unlike RH and DW, I don't have any inclination to watch the Brit version, or to catch up on all the series thus far.

I'm still trying to figure out if I liked it or not...for sure it was much better than Primeval. It's like a mix of that Kids movie from the 90s and a bit of Saved by the Bell on crack, an lower-east-side Gossip Girl.

But, I did like the Cassie episode, and wouldn't mind seeing the Sid eppy earlier.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Every programming guide, listing service, etc., has the Jal episode airing next Sunday. Maybe the preview for the Sid episode was a mistake.

Julia said...

Well, I think that season 1 just gets better and better till the end, and the beginning of season 2 is really great as well, and then for me it wasn't great anymore, just good.

But I'm still excited with season 3 with a brand new cast.