Skins, the provocative television program from the BBC, returns with Volume 3, a three disc DVD set that contains all of the episodes from series 3 that aired in 2009 on BBC America. At the end of the second series, the original cast all graduated from Roundview College (the last years of secondary school), so for the new series the producers cast all new actors (save for one) to be the new characters. That one exception was Kaya Scodelario as “Effy,” the numb and depressed sister of original series character, Tony. Effy, who had her own episode back in season 2, is a familiar face for fans of the Skins and a way to connect the two versions of the show.
I approached the new series of Skins with some skepticism. I’m a huge fan of the first two series and I worried that a new group of characters would never be able to live up to the ones I loved so much from before. Series 3 opens by introducing us to Freddie (Luke Pasqualino), a soulful, handsome skateboarding daredevil. The opening sequence shows him navigating a busy street on his skateboard, recklessly veering between speeding cars. He narrowly escapes the pursuit of a bicycle cop and meets up with his two best friends, Cook (Jack O’Connell), a hard partying, blunt, free spirit, and JJ (Ollie Barbieri), a kind, extremely intelligent young man with Aspergers. After they sit down for a come early morning beers and a spliff, the boys meet Effy. Instantaneously, all three are smitten with her, and this sets in motion the principal story arc for the third series. Effy will choose one of the friends, but really loves one of the others. The affection for her will drive a wedge between Freddie and Cook, and it will send JJ reeling as he watches his two best friends start to hate each other.
Soon there after, we meet the other main characters for series 3. Katie and Emily are twin sisters (played by Megan and Kathryn Prescott). Katie is a social butterfly and uses her twin as her doormat. Katie also shows that she’s homophobic as she lashes out at Naomi (Lily Loveless), an idealistic individual who once kissed Emily when they were younger. Naomi doesn’t want to admit that she may be a lesbian; Emily, who gradually finds her own independence as the series continues, realizes that she is gay and gains strength by coming out of the closet to her friends. Finally, there is Pandora (Lisa Backwell), a hanger on who desperately wants to seem as cool as Effy, her best friend. Pandora finds love with Thomas (Merveille Lukeba), a spiritual and honest immigrant from the Congo.
The first episode in series 3 is very broad and crude. The skepticism I had seemed justified; the writing in that episode wasn’t as strong as I had seen in the previous two series. However, as soon as Skins settled into their unique method of storytelling, all of my fears were quelled and I quickly fell in love with these characters and the actors playing them.
If you’re unaware, each individual episode is devoted to a single character. Although the rest of the group appears throughout these episodes and storylines are carried on, everything is shown through the perspective of that episodes character. For example, on the surface Cook may look like an ass and Naomi may come off as stuck up, but once we see their private lives, we get a better understanding of who they are. This method of storytelling is nothing new in fiction, but on Skins it is utilized quite effectively.
The first disc contains some strong work, but the best episodes fall on disc 2, which was the middle of that series. The episodes featured on disc 2 include Freddie, Naomi, JJ and Effy. Each is moving and poignant in their own ways, but it was the JJ episode that actually brought me to tears. In addition to the exemplary performance by Ollie Barbieri, the music featured throughout this episode was the piano works of Claude Debussy, which is a departure from the rock and club music that usually acts as the score to Skins.
Admittedly, Skins is sometimes a little too sensationalistic and seems to be provocative just because it can. How much pot and alcohol can one small group of middle class kids consume? Still, it’s because the series deals with seemingly regular, blue collar teens, and not upper class New Yorkers or Beverly Hills rich kids that makes Skins feel more authentic than almost every teen driven show on television. The writing is consistently excellent and these young actors will break your heart.
Bonus features on the DVD include behind the scenes footage from each episode, audition footage, plus video diaries and bonus short films featuring the characters from the series.