Sunday, August 24, 2008

Skins, "Jal": In the woodwinds

Spoilers for "Skins" episode three coming up just as soon as I get my sound system fixed...

Another strong episode, and one that again confirms that, despite the show's title and hype, it has far more on its mind than sex. Yes, Jal is uncomfortable with being a virgin and feels inferior to Michelle (even though, in the grand scheme of things, she has far more going for her than Michelle does), but she's far more preoccupied with kicking butt at the music competition, and with getting the respect and affection of her father. I'm in a hurry -- and I'm still not clear how many of you are watching for the first time versus revisiting the show to see how BBC America cut it -- so let's do this bullet point-style:

• "Jal" also continues the trend of making Sid the secondary character (I wonder how Sid's own episode will be structured), then has Jal's father apparently take care of his Mad Twatter problem once and for all. (It's at this point I want to remind you again to respect the American air order, and not discuss -- or even hint at -- plot developments from episodes that haven't aired here yet.)

• I love the moment in the hospital when Jal's brothers (and Don) are begging for Michelle to kiss them, because it suggests that for all their rapping bravado, they're just as inexperienced as Jal.

• Can someone who understands the British school system explain exactly what kind of "college" these kids are going to? Somebody tried to tell me a week or two ago that they're at the equivalent of a vocational school, but that doesn't seem to fit with either them taking psych classes or with the presence of Jal, who comes from far more money than somebody like Sid or Tony.

• Also, what's the deal with the principal talking about Jal's "handicap"? Is this supposed to suggest the woman's so clueless she doesn't even realize what student she's talking to, or am I missing something?

• I got a huge kick out of Claire the profane music teacher, though of course she'd be much funnier in the original, non-bleeped British version.

• Sid's theory of how he might actually have sex with Michelle (largely involving booze and mistaken identity) was profoundly sad and profoundly funny.

• Two of the three episodes so far end right before the central character is about to perform the action the entire hour has been building towards (Cassie eating something, Jal playing her clarinet), and even "Tony" ends with Sid acknowledging that he's still a virgin, even though the majority of the episode was devoted to Tony trying to change that. Interesting that a show so allegedly obsessed with sex keeps designing its episodes to eliminate gratification.

What did everybody else think?


Anonymous said...

sixth-form college is what university-bound students attend when they're 16-18ish in order to prepare for their a-level examinations, which are like ap exams in that they are subject specific and like the sats in that they are important to the university admissions process.

Anonymous said...

- I don't think Jal is a virgin, just not as sex-obsessed as her friends... unless she said that in this ep and I missed it.

- I thought the principal was being racist?

- After reading your first post, I quickly "acquired" the entire first two series of Skins (the original E4 version), and I have to say music is such a huge part of this show (as is language, but at least that remains semi-intact), I sort of think you might be better off watching the original version if there is a big risk of a lot of original songs not making the transfer. Also, I think you were right in saying that the first season is wonderful and the second sort of tapers off into mediocrity, but it's still worth sticking with, IMO.

Anonymous said...

Here are some useful links.

As I understand it, the required part of the British educational system ends at age 16.

Then you go to college and study a few subject specific courses (kind of like you do in university).

Then you take A-level (AP-like) examinations on the courses.

But the A-levels are more SAT-like in determining what university you end up in. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think they're EXTREMELY IMPORTANT. (I'm an American, so I'm not sure.)

As for the music, yeah it's a crucial part of this show. That's why they launched

And that's also why the Skins cast made YouTube videos of them interviewing the bands on the episodes. That's why it's shocking that the original music isn't intact.

Almost nothing, however, was edited out of Jal's episode. (Probably because there wasn't much original music.)

Only the N-word (from the rap group) was taken out.

As for the difference between Seasons 1 and 2, I'll just say that I absolutely loved Season 2. I think it's sort of like the latter seasons of The Sopranos in that you either love it or hate it. But it heads off into some unexpected territory that a lot of fans just didn't like. That's all I'll say.

Next week's episode, "Chris," is a good one.

Anonymous said...

I'm definitely watching and enjoying so I hope you'll keep doing a post on Skins, Alan!

I agree -- another strong episode. The actress playing Jal was excellent, and Sid is hilarious. It also made me curious for Michelle's episode. There must be a reason she craves male attention (besides just general horniness.)

Emily said...
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Unknown said...


It seems like your dvr got mixed up on what episode it was.

Also, I would definitely suggest finding the show with the original music because it adds so much more to the series IMO.

Anna said...
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Anonymous said...
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Shawn Anderson said...

Even if it's a bit on the nose making Jal colorblind is a nice nod to how she wants to make her way through society - above color. Daddy may think it's "playing for whitey," but she prefers to see it as simply playing. I'm guessing she got that from her mum, which annoys her father even more.

Anna said...
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Alan Sepinwall said...

Okay, that's the last we're going to speak of the DVR description (which I saw as well, and which I feared was a season two spoiler or something).

Sarah said...

I'm watching for the first time and enjoying your posts. I liked the focus on a much more serious character like Jal and I thought it was interesting to see the class differences between some of the characters. I liked the touch of how Jal was able to talk in slang like her brothers at the breakfast table.

Anonymous said...

The kids are at sixth form college studying for A levels.

In the UK, children are only required to go to school until they are 16, when they take GCSE's in various subjects. Gaining these are very important as having a minimum of 5 good grades gives you access to good colleges (not just 6th forms) training (such as nursing, etc) and shows any employer that your worth investing in.

If you chose to go on to do A-Levels, you can do these at main colleges along side other courses or in a 6th form, which basically specialises in A-levels, and are sometimes even attached to the secondary schools where the kids did their GCSE's.

A-Levels are required by most universities for its more academic courses and having good grades determines which university you get into.

Hope that helps.

Nicole said...

I had only vaguely heard of this show until the recaps and managed to catch the episodes over the past week. It's nice to see the British angle on a teen show and refreshing that the "overachiever" character (Jal) is not the stereotypical one usually found on US teen shows.

Tony is a total prick and yet not exactly the villain, which is also an interesting approach. My favourite character though is Sid, in all his dorkiness.

As stated earlier, the music really added to the show (original version) and seemed less obvious than the band of the week stuff that we are given with the OC and Gossip Girl (although the trend really started with 90210). It's nice not to have to endure too much of "the gang going to see the new band at the Peach Pit" stuff.

The one cultural difference that I did have to get used to is the ease with which the characters, whom I presume are all under 18, get into clubs and bars. Any bar I've gone to stringently checked IDs and so unless you had a good fake one, you weren't going in. My experience stems from Ontario and Michigan bars, and while I know Quebec bars are more lax, I assume it must be the same in the UK too.

Anonymous said...

Here is the "Unseen Skins" episode for "Jal":

Anonymous said...

I found the principal to be such a heavy-handed villain that it threw off the entire episode for me. If I understood what was happening correctly, she had no idea who Jal was (despite the fact that Jal's father is apparently famous) -- or that there was even such a talented musician in the school -- until she heard that Jal was up for that prestigious music competition. Because she's a racist, she condescendingly assumes that Jal must be an impoverished student who's "handicapped" by her background; and because she's an awful person, she wants to take all the credit for Jal's talent and the music teacher's hard work. (It also made little sense that the male administrator, who's the music teacher's boyfriend, would have gone along with this.)

It was funny to hear Jal playing so wonderfully in the midst of the awful school band, though. It reminded me of Lisa in the opening-credits sequence to "The Simpsons."

The other thing that struck me as strange in this episode is that no one took Tony to task the events that led to Jal being terrorized and her brothers getting beat up by the drug dealer. He's the one who sent Sid to the insane dealer in the first place, who was largely responsible for the drugs getting lost, and who didn't help Sid deal with the situation after promising to do so. I understand that Sid has some kind of man-crush on Tony, but why does everyone else let him off the hook?

Anna said...

The overachiever character is rare for teen shows?? That's news to me. I actually can't remember the last teen show I've seen where one of the main girls didn't (inexplicably) end up being the valedictorian somehow.

Anonymous said...

First time I visited the US (California) I'd just turned 21, and so when asked for ID for bars/alcohol I got quite a lot 'only just old enough huh?' responses. I found this hilarious as I'd been drinking and going out in the UK for a good 5/6 years (3 of those legally).

I know there are ongoing attempts to tighten this up, but there's still plenty of places where teenagers, especially self-possessed ones, can go and drink.

Partly this is a cultural difference - alcohol and drinking just doesn't have the same stigma here. I believe it's legal to drink wine with a meal if accompanied by adults when you're 14, and of course continental europe is even more relaxed. So there's more adults who are willing to turn a blind eye if someone who might be a bit young has some dubious fake ID, or even just a good story.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and BigTed: the adult characters on this show are almost invariably larger-than-life caricatures. This aspect of the show jarred at first but grew on me over time. I think ultimately they capture quite well the one-dimensional view of the adults in their life that teens tend to have (or at least that's how I remember it).

It's interesting as a technique because there's this distinct dissonance between the naturalistic and nuanced depiction of the teens (well mainly anyway) and the cartoon-like adults.

Karen said...

To bigted: The adults on this show have been almost uniformly loathesome. The clueless OCD therapist at Cassie's clinic, Michelle's self-absorbed mom with her new trophy husband, Cassie's completely selfish and oblivious parents, the school's principal...even Jal's father only barely redeemed himself at the end of this episode, with the new clarinet and the disposal of Mad Twatter. The only teacher who's been remotely sympathetic was the music teacher, and she's got some strings loose herself. Oh, and there's Cassie's driver, but even he has shades that make him a bit unclear. So, clearly, this isn't a show that is given to nuanced portrayals of authority figures.

That being said, the principal didn't make much sense. This appears to be a school primarily for the upper middle class (just about everyone's family but Sid's appears to have money of some kind), and you would think the principal would be aware of who her financial-aid students were.

But I don't care--I really love this show. Not least because it's teaching me an entirely new vocabulary of street slang--I was so tired of the American version.

Anonymous said...

I'm a 16 year old watching for the first time, and I have to say that one of the things I like most about this show is how the actors are the same age (or close to the same age) as the characters they are portraying. It just makes this show so much more realistic and relatable, because these people seem more like my friends than most "teens" on American TV. I also like the format of rotating the focus to different characters, and having some characters appear more prominently in some episodes than others, because that also makes the show more realistic (and keeps things interesting).

Anonymous said...

Karen said This appears to be a school primarily for the upper middle class (just about everyone's family but Sid's appears to have money of some kind), and you would think the principal would be aware of who her financial-aid students were.

None of the kids will be paying fees. College courses are free up to and including 18.

floretbroccoli said...

Karen --

Yes, the adults are uniformly awful. But I've interpreted this as being the kids' point of view, not necessarily objective.