If I had to guess why I don't like soap operas, I could boil it down to two reasons. First of all, character is often sacrificed for character traits: the fact that, say, someone is unable to sustain a healthy relationship without sabotaging it is a character trait, not character. It isn't their personality. It doesn't tell you anything about them as a person. Still, most examples of soap operas I've seen ignore this crucial distinction, which leads into my other problem: from there we get a healthy dose of the "Idiot Plot" (a term coined by Roger Ebert), which describes a conflict that could easily be resolved if the characters in the show or film acted like, you know, actual people (usually relating to characters' apparent inability to communicate with one another). The first season of the UK's "Skins" didn't have either of these problems: you had well-defined characters acting in mostly logical ways. The second series has its share of shining moments, but it doesn't fare as well at combating the tired tropes of soap opera scripting.
When we last left our group of Bristol college students, Tony (Nicholas Hoult) had just been hit by a bus while attempting to express some honest feelings for Michelle (April Pearson), and Sid (Michael Bailey) was stuck watching Cassie (Hannah Murray) leave the for the far off Scottish village of Elgin. Tony's recovery hasn't been particularly smooth: loud noises frighten him, he's lost the ability to write, move all of his joints, and most importantly, remember everything that happened, and without their self-assured, cocky leader, the rest of the group seems fractured, and the second series is all about studying the waves caused by such a rift.
People not talking to one another kicks off almost immediately: we're introduced to a new character named Sketch (Amy Ffion-Edwards) who's got a thing for Maxxie (Mitch Hewer). Unfortunately, Maxxie is gay, and doesn't know who she is, so the obvious course of action for her is to squish her boobs with gauze and stalk him in secret. She tells her mom she's dating him, makes wrongful sexual abuse allegations to get closer to him during the school play (its subject being one of the series' more ridiculous jokes), takes secret photographs of him from her window and pleasures herself while lying on his bed when he's not at home. It's far from boring, but what are the writers trying to achieve? There's a scene where she laments to Michelle about boys not understanding how they've hurt girls who love them, but it's hard to drudge up any sympathy when she's stalking Maxxie in secret and seriously psychotic. It's enough to fill a whole Obsessed or two, but thankfully the show is almost completely done with her in a single episode (the one not coincidentally titled "Sketch").
Then we have Michelle herself, who's trying to decipher the increasingly troubled Tony and his feelings for her. In the first series, I thought Michelle was interesting; watching her deal with Tony's mixed signals made her complex and engaging. Here, she's merely mopey, disappointed by her mom's new marriage to a style-obsessed tool who's got no boundaries with his shrill daughter Scarlett (Sia Berkeley), who the rest of the gang seems to like, and her constant gambits for Tony's attention weigh down the story like gigantic lead weights. Even worse, the once lovely, flighty Cassie has been turned into a massive plot device. Somewhere between the seasons, her cryptic oddness has turned maddeningly vague, and all of her blissed-out dissertations have been given a cynical, unlikable edge. Cassie spirals into a bit of a depression, and she becomes destructive to all the other characters. She usually apologizes, but it seems hollow. You never see Cassie learning the error of her ways, so instead of a character arc it feels more like the writers just leaned on her whenever they needed something to happen, because, hey, she's crazy! She'll do anything! The return of Georgina Moffat as the exceptionally grating Abigail Stock is also not a plus, but her participation is also brief. Thank goodness British TV runs short: gotta keep moving.
At the risk of sounding like a stick in the mud, I also question the show's increasing glamorization of drug use and the equation of love to sex. Sometimes, the pill-popping and joint-smoking has consequences, but it doesn't change the way the camera just sits and watches our characters getting trashed in a more lingering way than the first series (which I had no complaints with). And while these are teenagers, there also isn't a single time when characters proclaim their love for one another that doesn't directly lead to them falling into bed, often literally; the relationships felt more emotional than physical last season.
But when a door closes, a window opens, and in this case, that window is Jal (Larissa Wilson). In the first series, her episode was a bit on the dull side, and the rest of the time she barely registered as a side character, but "Skins" Vol. 2 gives her a chance to shine. Wilson gives Jal depth, character, intelligence and charm, and even a few Idiot Plot devices (including the misused return of Siwan Morris) can't stop her from making the fifth episode one of, if not the best of the whole series. Chris (Joe Dempsie) challenges Jal to say yes to everything and live a little, and the results blow Yes Man out of the water. Speaking of Chris, he's right there with Jal: his first season episode crossed past dull and into "annoying", and I'd almost come to dislike the character, but he finds redemption in his interactions with Jal. Tony and Sid also remain interesting; Hoult gives Tony more than a handful of new facets to his developing personality (Hoult has a great moment at the end of the sixth episode), and while Sid's direct confrontation with Cassie in episode 7 feels painfully melodramatic (more poor Cassie writing), his character is still relatable and funny. Kaya Scodelario continues to be oddly intriguing as Tony's sister Effy.
Another standout is the series' portrayal of adults. "Skins" is all heightened reality, and it tends to stand out more in the grown-up cast more than the teenage protagonists, so it might seem strange at first, but Peter Capaldi, Josie Lawrence, Bill Bailey, Harry Enfield, Kevin Eldon, Giles Thomas, Mark Heap and more all turn in funny, knowing performances. I was also impressed that Daniel Kaluuya, who occasionally pops up as extremely goofy rapper Posh Kenneth, was the writer of the series eighth episode. Even if it wasn't my favorite of the series, it still developed the characters in interesting ways, and it's nice to know that a show aimed at young people is willing to let young people try their hand at crafting it.
In the final episodes of Series 2 I felt a strange unease, as if everything was going wrong. Problems racked up, tension grew, and I was unhappy with the way characters seemed to be drifting apart. Yet that's "Skins" biggest and most bittersweet triumph: even if some of the plot developments are goofy, there's a truth to the harsh reality of growing up that the show presents. The first series was more of a lark, a friendly, witty exploration of teen issues, but Vol. 2 gets surprisingly serious. Series 3 apparently focuses on a new group of kids, but while I'd have liked to see more of Sid, Tony, Michelle, Anwar, Maxxie, Cassie, Chris and Jal, it's this lack of finality that represents the show's riskiest and most rewarding choice of all.
"Skins", Vol. 2 comes with a less-interesting cover that just has the cast standing there and also hypes Nicholas Hoult and Dev Patel's involvement (gotta drag in those About a Boy and Slumdog Millionaire fans!). Once again, the 3-disc set slides into a single-width keep case, and the back is cleanly designed. The discs repeat the same art as the front cover, and the menus are easy to navigate, but are disappointingly identical on all three discs (maybe the first season's menus were too, and I didn't notice, but I remember them being slightly more clever).
This 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation is basically identical to Volume 1's presentation (which I misidentified as being 1.85:1). Colors are strong, but interlacing is often visible, clarity wavers (probably due to the cinematography and not the DVD), and dark scenes may require some fiddling with the contrast knob. As far as it goes, I imagine this is exactly what the show looked like when it hit the airwaves in Britain, so fans should be perfectly happy with the DVD.
Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo is the same story. Much like the first series, the mix can be fairly good when there's some brand of thumping techno (like this series' very first sequence), but all in all, the mix is fairly straightforward. Again, I'm sure this is exactly what the show sounded like when it aired on TV, so no worries. English subtitles are helpfully provided, as sometimes the slang goes way over my head.
The bonus features are again all comprised of extra footage as opposed to behind-the-scenes footage. First, we have "Christmas with Skins" (7:19), which disappointingly takes place (I'm guessing) between Series 1 and 2, and doesn't act as a coda to the series. The back of the box also refers to it as the "Christmas Special", so the fact that it's only 7 minutes long may be an additional letdown. It's pretty inconsequential, although completists will be happy to see it included.
The rest are five additional "Skins" storylines. They include "Musical Audition" (3:34), "Tony's Nightmare" (4:25), "Cassandra" (10:00), "When Maxxie Met James" (5:58) and "Anwar & Sketch" (6:09). I think someone at BBC America misunderstood the title of the first one, as the back cover lists "Auditions" that are nowhere to be found. Except for "Cassandra", which runs a little long, they're fairly entertaining, although again, they're inconsequential compared to the shows (and "Tony's Nightmare" is downright trippy). In my review of "Skins" Vol. 1, I thought these ancillary storylines were deleted scenes, but Wikipedia informs me (while I was hunting down cast names) that these were made for the "Skins" website, which makes more sense. They don't look that great (watch the hypnotic flicker on a mime's shirt in "Musical Audition"), but it shouldn't make much of a difference.
Region free users looking for actual behind-the-scenes footage may want to look into importing the Region 2 release, which features almost an hour of additional bonus material on the making of the show. However, the last of the additional stories ("Anwar & Sketch") is only present on the US release, so fans will unfortunately end up having to buy both. While no one will likely end up paying the full $40 retail on this set, it's a shame BBC America couldn't have tossed on another hour of extras they already had (thanks to DVDTalk forum user diditagain for this info).
Each disc has its own automatic trailer. On Disc 1, we get spots for "Shakespeare Retold" and BBC America, on Disc 2 it's a promo for "Primeval", and Disc 3 serves up an ad for the fourth series of "Doctor Who". English subs are provided.
"Skins": Vol. 2 resorts to a few more soap opera style tricks than I'd have liked, but the show takes risks with its characters and story. Fans of the first series should steel themselves for a rollercoaster of emotions, but shouldn't hesitate to dive right into this recommended collection of episodes.
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