The Three Strike Rule: “90210” and “Skins”

Written by Television, The Three Strike Rule

If you’re like me, you checked out the CW’s reboot of 90210 for nostalgia’s sake. I mean — Jennie Garth, come on! Even my wife thinks she looks good. Well, Jennie Garth’s hotness is about the only thing this show has going for it. I’ll admit, I was curious to see how producers Gabe Sachs & Jeff Judah would transform the show from its Aaron Spelling sudsy roots. After all, these two worked on NBC’s exceptional series, Freaks and Geeks. Unfortunately, none of the charm and humor from Freaks and Geeks exists in 90210. In fact, there is nothing to differentiate 90210 from Gossip Girl, except that Gossip Girl is a little better written.

90210The setup for the new 90210 is similar to the original series, which ran in the 90’s on FOX: Annie Wilson (Shenae Grimes) and her adopted brother, Dixon (Tristan Wilds) are the new kids at West Beverly Hills High School. They’ve just moved to California from Kansas so that their parents (Robe Estes and Lori Loughlin) can keep an eye on grandma Tabitha (Jessica Walter, rehashing what she did on Arrested Development). For Annie and Dixon, the awkwardness of being the new kids is made worse by the fact that their dad has taken a job as the principal. Annie and Dixon have a close sibling relationship, which they’ll need to help them cope with all the new cliques and classmates, including the spoiled, rich, Naomi (Anna Lynne McCord); Ethan (Dustin Milligan), a popular jock who crushes on Annie; Navid (Michael Steger), who heads up the school’s TMZ-type newscast; and Silver (Jessica Stroup), the rebel, who also happens to be the younger sister of one Kelly Taylor, played by Garth, reprising her role from the original series.

You still have a bunch of rich kids moping through life, worried about their lives, and spending shitloads of
cash. And we’re supposed to care about them why? What’s worse, every “teenage” girl on this show looks like she has borderline health problems. I haven’t seen this many stick figures since Ally McBeal and Lara Flynn Boyle of The Practice went off the air. When you consider that the camera adds weight, I am saddened and sickened by how malnourished the actresses look. Except, that is, for Jennie Garth, who actually looks like a thirty-something mother. Good for her for not starving herself now that she’s back on prime time television.

Sadly, (and I’ve said this before) American television series about middle-class people struggling to make ends meet do not garner the ratings networks desire, no matter how great the show. Freaks and Geeks was shuffled around in the NBC lineup, and it eventually went out with a whimper. Friday Night Lights, one of the finest shows on television — I would say the best family drama airing — has a loyal audience, but NBC has not been able to get the ratings it wants. This year, FNL will air on Direct TV’s 101 in the fall and return to NBC come wintertime. This arrangement was done to offset the supposed expensive costs of producing the show. Any show that seems to find some success has to have a high concept to succeed.

Think of the WB’s Everwood, about a rich doctor (Treat Williams) who up and moves his kids to Colorado to set up a free clinic. He’s so wealthy that his children don’t have to worry about money and his patients don’t have to pay for his service. I loved Everwood for its drama and the way it dealt with certain issues, but it was still high concept. Same goes for Veronica Mars, UPN’s great series in which a “poor” teenager (Kristen Bell) who attends a high school with rich kids also acts as a private investigator and solves crimes. When it wasn’t dealing with the crime of the week, Veronica Mars dealt with a variety of teen issues like date rape, drug abuse, and homosexuality.

skins-s1-590x350To find television series that deal with these same real issues and actually portray kids in the real world, you have to look overseas, where the BBC produces Skins, a compelling drama/comedy centering around a group of teenage friends in the upper grades of school. Only two of the kids come from money, while others are dealing with abandonment and divorce issues. As with the teen shows on the CW, sex and drugs are ever-present issues, yet their effects are realistically portrayed. Skins also takes a unique approach to its storytelling: Each episode is devoted to one or two characters from the clique, making the “lead actors” different week in and week out. This type of storytelling (also used in Lost) allows viewers to really get to know the characters. In addition to the fantastic acting by the group of young actors on the show, the writers allow the characters to really come to life and breathe.

Among the characters are Tony (Nicholas Hoult), the leader of the pack, who can be a best friend or a manipulative jerk in the same moment; his girlfriend, Michelle (April Pearson), otherwise known as “˜Nips,’ and Tony’s best friend, Sid (Mike Bailey), who is in love with Michelle. Sid has no confidence and Tony plays him like a fool. But Sid isn’t as stupid as he seems. The cast of characters are rounded out by Cassie (Hannah Murray) a self-harming, anorexic with zero self esteem, but a heart of gold, Chris (Joe Dempsie), who is always game for a laugh, even though he’s harboring a great deal of pain, Anwar (Dev Patel), whose family want him to study the Koran, but his interests are less spiritual, Jal (Larissa Wilson) and Maxxie (Mitch Hewer). Jal is Nips’ best friend and the most talented young classical clarinet player in the country. Maxxie is magic on his feet, a whiz with his hands and can have any boy he wants.

Skins is like a John Hughes adaptation of a Bret Easton Ellis novel. There is an attention to detail in the characters and how they behave. The kids are from both sides of the tracks, but those class differences don’t seem to matter. And while you have your fuckup and nerd and rich kid and the good girl, everything about Skins is handled very honestly. I care more about the characters on this show after just two episodes than I did after an entire season of Gossip Girl. Skins currently airs on BBC America and has multiple airings throughout the week. As usual with the network, the U.S. is getting the series almost two years after it premiered. Don’t let that deter you from checking it out; BBC America is really behind the show, and is doing its best to find an audience here in the U.S. Give it a look and let me know what you think.