By Caryn James | James on Screens January 24, 2011 at 6:22AM
Since MTV’s Skins premiered last week, the show about sex-drug-and-alcohol-fueled teens has hit the headlines in a snowball of outlandish responses, beginning with an inflammatory front-page story in the New York Times. According to the story, unnamed MTV executives suddenly worried that the show might violate child pornography laws, which say children cannot be shown in sexually explicit or suggestive situations. And (whoops!) MTV had already made a big deal of the fact that its actors are actual teenagers. Since then, several advertisers dropped out of the series, including Taco Bell, GM and Wrigley. (Even though the first show had a substantial audience for MTV, over 3 million viewers.)
The series returns tonight with its second episode, and there’s still no reason to drop your taco. There is a distinct whiff or either alarmism or hype about the whole flap.
Of course the show has the suggestion of sex – that’s what Skins and a lot of adolescence is about – but nothing explicit. The nudity is more innocuous than a lot of what’s on ordinary cable television.
I covered tonight’s episode in my premiere-day review: it’s about Tea, a smart, sensitive lesbian, who’s trying to find the right girl, but who may have found her soulmate in the charsmatic, womanizing Tony. It’s a strong episode until it ends with a strained heart-to-heart betwen Tea and her grandma.
Since then I’ve seen two more episodes, including next week’s, the one that reportedly sent MTV execs into a tailspin. Chris, left home alone by his single mother, is locked out after a party and runs down the street naked, showing the camera his bare butt. The episode may be edited by the time it runs, but what’s striking is that it relies on the same creaky joke as The Little Fockers. Chris, who pops any kind of pill he sees, has taken loads or erectile dysfunction drugs and has an erection lasing 15 hours – not as long as Robert DeNiro’s character’s in Fockers, but just as tired a joke. As in Little Fockers, there is no nudity; there is also no real humor.
Skins doesn’t get better as it goes along. Each episode centers around a single character and the show is more or less worth watching depending on how interesting or dull the characters are. MTV didn’t send out one of the more serious episodes, about a suicide attempt by the emotionally troubled Cadie.
But there is a clear pattern. Most episodes end with some intergenerational meeting that reveals the series’ gooey heart. Tonight, Tea’s granny reveals herself to be less conventional than anyone had thought. In the fifth episode, loser Stanley’s idiot, self-rightous Dad gets a little less stupid. That soft center is just the opposite of defying convention or encouraging bad behavior: it is simply TV drama as usual. With Skins, that drama comes with a lot of headlines that are no more than hot air.