American television networks have been “borrowing” shows from Europe for some time, dating back to Three’s Company (from France) to American Idol (from England). The latest, and perhaps most controversial example of US networks borrowing from across the pond is the somewhat real, somewhat fictionalized MTV show Skins which first appeared in England. The San Francisco Chronicle said it best in a review “…Skins goes where Gossip Girl and other teen dramas from these shores wouldn’t dare.” Since its debut on MTV, Skins has offended a wide array of groups, not least of which are the sponsors who pulled their support from the show.
So what makes the UK version of Skins award winning and critically acclaimed, and the US remake under media fire and on the verge on cancellation just after a couple episodes? Well, besides the accents.
Inappropriateness: sex, drugs, and nudity- Despite the uproar regarding whether or not US Skins is appropriate to air on television, it is actually quite watered down and tame in comparison to UK Skins. A typical episode of UK Skins involves many instances of drug use, cussing, sex, and some HBO-worthy nudity. This element of the show adds to its realistic depiction of life in Bristol, but does not take away from the validity of the show’s assertions about teen culture. An in depth look into UK Skins would reveal that the show does not glorify drugs or sex, rather it explores the reasons these teens get involved in dangerous activities and the repercussions. While Skins is not an accurate depiction of all teens, the situations that the characters fall into could happen to anyone. Each character has a reason behind why they do the things they do and that reason is dissected in each episode about that character. E4 (the network that airs Skins in the UK) receives no punishment for addressing these issues and so there are some differences between what e4 and MTV can show. For example, a character might drop the F bomb in a UK Skins episode, but in a US Skins episode the F-word would be bleeped out. Or if a character UK Skins has an explicit scene, US Skins would tone down. Because American television has some restrictions, UK Skins is able to literally go where no American cable channel has gone before.
Acting: Nicholas Hoult vs. James Newman- UK Skins is notorious for casting unknowns as leading or supporting characters. However, at the helm of the show there is always one experienced actor to hold down the fort. Nicholas Hoult was the anchor of the UK version and also the most experienced actor of the cast. His portrayal as Tony, Bristol’s resident “boy-who-is-a-total-jerk-but-you-can’t-help-but-to-feel-attracted-to-him-anyway” was intriguing as well as a joy to watch. James Newman’s Tony, who leads the US cast, is, on the other hand, mediocre at best. His inexperience as an actor is obvious and as a result his character is unlikable and annoying. Megan Carlson of Buddy TV said that “… [James Newman] sets the whole dynamic of the group off-balance.”
Gay characters: Maxxie vs. Tea- One of the only drastic differences to the characters between UK and US Skins is the gender of the gay character on the show. On UK Skins there was Maxxie, an openly gay male. He was proud and confident in whom he was and his family and friends did not view him as something repulsive or different. Maxxie epitomized equal and fair treatment towards homosexuals. While the gay character on US Skins is Tea who instead of being certain about her sexually is still in the closet to her family and even has an occasional fling with Tony. So, US Skins not only changed the gender of Maxxie, but also his entire character.