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Skins (UK) vs. Skins (US): Can Sex, Drugs and Partying Translate Across the Pond?

25 Jan

If you asked me for the past few years what my favorite show was, I would have told you the UK version of Skins. It was raw, filthy, dirty, fun, sometimes shocking but still somehow, human. Most of the time. Don’t ask me about how I feel about the last series (that’s UK speak for season) and what happened to Freddy. I still haven’t recovered. The UK version of Skins was something like I’d never seen before and something I wish they had put on when I was a teenager. Instead I got teen shows such as… actually I can’t even remember. Maybe The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Let’s just say that TV at that time was highly sanitized. We had nothing like Skins when I was growing up. So I sat there watching the first series like it was a cross between a train wreck and possibly soft core porn and wondering if there really were ever parties like this when I was in high school. Because I went to plenty of parties. But I never saw anything like what I was watching.

I’m always apprehensive when things are remade. I am usually committed to the first incarnation of something. Yes, I know, that’s a preconceived notion. Now when I heard that MTV was making as US version of Skins, I was cautious in feeling any excitement or anticipation, but I believe in giving these things a chance. I just didn’t see how a show so edgy would ever get broadcast in the US without a good deal of sanitizing. Even when BBC America broadcasts the original Skins there are random bits cut out and many words have been bleeped.

I also learned that while the UK Skins takes place in Bristol, which gives the series a definite feel of place, the US Skins seems to take place in “some” American suburb. Now, I’m sure that’s because MTV wanted the teen audience to feel like it could be Anywhere, USA and “this could be their lives,” although I’m not sure if I were sixteen or seventeen again I would want to party that hard and be that much of a slut. Honestly, the feel of the US Skins isn’t real. I felt like I was watching a bunch of kids trying to play at being cool. Maybe it didn’t feel real because I didn’t know the locale – Chicago? Madison? Cleveland? Give us some place. Because I feel like the show is set in no man’s land. Actually, it’s filmed in Canada. And while tons of shows film in Canada, they still do us the courtesy of letting us know the fake US city they are copying. So, the US version in short, falls short of its UK brother.

Dear MTV: we’re not all high watching this show, but I think if I tune in for a second episode I might have to be to make it through.

According to the shows creators, father and son team Bryan Elsley and Jamie Brittain, the pilot episode, “Tony” is nearly an exact copy of the original UK pilot and from there we will see an increasingly substantial change to the storylines. OK… I’m not sure how I feel about that. Why screw up a good thing? Oh wait! Because this is America with TV networks that always have to change things. If you’ve been watching Episodes on Showtime, you will understand exactly what I mean. I can almost hear the meeting with the MTV execs when the decision was made to make the UK gay character Maxxie into a lesbian cheerleader in the US. I’m sure they were very convincing as they discussed the merits of wankability – after all, a lesbian cheerleader could capture that teen male audience! Which is rather ironic since MTV claims Skins is really for adults although we all know the main core of MTV viewers are teenagers.

Now MTV is facing some issues since we, in America, are so….puritanical. Since there are moments with some partial nudity and sexual situations in Skins the Department of Justice is now getting involved because of possible allegations of child pornography. Newsflash to the Department of Justice and American parents: have you looked at your teenagers’ Facebook pages? So, the US Skins is doing well for MTV. Do I think it is as good as the UK version? No. I don’t. Do I blame the writers and producers? No. I blame American sensibilities. Somehow, I just don’t see every teen in American getting horny and going out to party because in one upcoming episode of Skins we might see one seventeen year old guy’s naked ass. No ass can be that inspiring…

Now of course, I’ll have to watch the offending episode 3 just to see if they are going to show it. I personally believe all this hype was created by MTV because they’re afraid their show might not be as great as the original UK version. I, for one, believe that’s a true statement.

Ashes to Ashes: a modern heroine back in the 1980s

26 Apr

I contemplated Season 1 of Ashes to Ashes that just finished airing on BBC America.  [Note to BBC America:  will you please stop editing for time and just show us what the British audience has seen?  It is highly annoying to have small chunks of plot missing and can somewhat ruin the entire narrative effect.  And, if you are going to put entire episodes up on your OnDemand, please kindly leave them up a bit longer.  Thanks.]  I reflected on what I had seen on TV in the 1980s when it came to crime drama and women.  I know I watched Hart to Hart and Remington Steele but I missed out on things like T.J. Hooker (I’m not sure I missed out on it, it just never appealed to me).  Everything in the 1980s was glossy when it came to crime and TV, with the exception of Cagney & Lacey and Hill Street Blues. Otherwise, crime-fighting tended to have some level of glamour to it.  It should be noted that Cagney & Lacey did have substance and dealt with being a working woman, both personally and professionally, in the 1980s.  Issues such as alcohol abuse and abortion rights were tackled.  Looking back, it’s surprising that show was allowed on the air in 1981.

During the 1980s, the one thing that women tended to be was straight-forward.  If they were fighting crime, they might have had some character flaws but overall, they were ‘good’ people.  It’s only in the last decade and a half that crime fighting women started to develop character.  Now we get to enjoy the dark sides of women.  Not every female crime fighter is a good girl.  Peta Wilson in La Femme Nikita, the mid 1990s USA network vehicle is an example of a crime fighter with a dark side.  This begs the question, which I am only beginning to pose:  can you be a crime fighter as well as a femme fatale in this era of crime fighting women on television?

As for Ashes to Ashes, I am undecided whether Alex Drake is actually a femme fatale, or at least, not an intentional, traditional femme fatale.  Alex’s desire to enforce the law (and do her job) is seemingly fatal to herself in the first episode when she is shot by a man who seems to know about her past but will not tell her the truth about her parents’ deaths.  As the series progresses, we learn that Alex’s mother’s beliefs and actions make her a femme fatale on some level, mostly, her belief system endangers the traditional way of thinking and makes her enemies on the police force.  Alex’s mother, however, is less traditional.  She isn’t only a mother, she’s a successful barrister and involved in politics.  And, in many episodes, she seems to be on trial by Alex for her decisions and choices.  Essentially, my issue is this:  does being a strong woman in the 1980s make you a femme fatale?  And, more interestingly, how is it contrasted in the first series between the three main female characters on the show:  Alex, a modern woman who has “gone back in time” because she’s been shot and is about to die; Molly, her mother, who is a modern woman and definitely a feminist in 1981, who is much more political and radical and also tends to represent the Second Wave of Feminism — a wealthier, more privileged member of society who can afford to be idealistic; and finally, WPC Shaz, a sort of androgynous young woman who isn’t sure where she stands.  She doesn’t quite realize her ‘position’ as a female on the police force and the important implications it could have if she gets promoted and takes herself a bit more seriously.  She’s sweet, but she is also one of the guys on some level…but not so much so that she can’t have a sexual liaison with one of the officers/detectives on the force.  If Alex represents ‘today’s woman’ and Molly represents the second wave of feminism, Shaz, it could be argued, represents the initial third wave…or the split between the second and third wave.

*Spoiler Alert!* in the following paragraph:

In addition to the three women and their respective representations in the series, their inter-relationships and those with men, in paritcular, Gene Hunt and Alex’s godfather, as well as, we soon learn, her mother’s lover, will help illustrate how these women function within a shifting patriarchal culture.  While Gene Hunt is the old representation of patriarchy who represents outdated ideals and prejudices, Alex’s godfather represents the newer enligtened man “as feminist”.  These two characters help Alex find her way as a woman and a detective in 1981.  They also show her that both types of men can have compassion, as in the final episode of Series One, and, ultimately, their good intentions can be grossly misguided.  Both men function as father figures in the final episode of the first series.   Gene Hunt functions as a protector when he picks up Young Alex and then carries her away from the explosion, and subsequently her Godfather acts as her substitute father after her parents’ death.  Both father figures make a joint decision for Alex’s “feelings” which will be what causes her to be shot in the first episode.  Father doesn’t always know best.  It is Alex’s deathly journey as well as her education and intellect that allow her to discover that the sins of her real father, coupled with good intentions by the other men in her past might just kill her.

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