What does this article suggest about the representation of young people in Skins and Glee?
Skins: it's not just about the sex and drugs
As the finale of the fourth season airs tonight, Zing Tsjeng celebrates a series that shows how
life really is for teens
If you've only ever read about Skins,
you may find it hard to see its
appeal. Promo material tends to
give the impression that Skins is
Hollyoaks with a fistful of pills, a
better taste in music and a
predilection towards smashing up
the local pub. And in fact, it's not
that far off. Skins has taken the
notion of post-watershed teen
drama and hasn't so much as
pushed the boat out as hopped in
and started rowing for England. No
wonder its viewers are looking forward to tonight's season finale.
But there's only so much a show can rely on casual vandalism and drug use, which is where
the sex comes in. Drunk sex, lesbian sex, casual sex, unprotected sex, sex where one
character repeatedly shouts "grab my balls!" - Skins has it all, and is considered
groundbreaking for its explicit depiction of teenage sexuality. But people who focus on that
explicitness are missing the point – Skins is also one of the few shows to depict teenagers
working out their sexuality without criticism or judgment.
Unlike other teen dramas, Skins doesn't seem to have producers and writers hovering around
the edges, anxious to make a point about Important Teen Issues. Just compare Skins to Glee
– another much-loved teen drama with a similar sense of black humour (and slightly more
showtunes). In episode four, Kurt comes out to his dad, who tells his son that he loves him
anyway. While coming-out scenes that end happily are all too rare on television, you can't
help but feel it comes off a tad preachily: "Don't worry, fledgling homosexuals of the world!" it
seems to say. "You too wear McQueen jumpers and memorise the Single Ladies dance, and
your parents will love you anyway!"
Luckily, that's sometimes the case. But more often than not, teenage sexuality can't be boiled
down to a song-and-dance routine, or resolved by the warm embrace of a loving parent.
Teenagers in Skins struggle with their sexuality, making huge mistakes along the way – and
in a world where the grown-ups are ridiculous caricatures of adult authority or entirely absent,
it's the teenagers who are left to sort out the resulting mess themselves. The relationship
between Emily and Naomi (known to Skins fans as Naomily) provides a case in point. One of
the best scenes in this season was one where Emily discovers that Naomi has cheated on
her. Crying, Naomi tries to explain herself: "I was scared." "You're always scared," Emily
It's a beautifully subtle comeback, and it tells us far more about both characters than any
number of sex scenes set to pounding indie rock. The best scenes in Skins aren't about sex,
they're about characters trying to figure out what to do afterwards. Take away the
programme's outlandish plot devices and rampant sex scenes, and what remains is a
surprisingly accurate portrayal of adolescence's emotional roller-coaster: the terror of falling in
love, the attitude that mistakes insouciance and hardness for independence and strength, and
the aggressive posturing that screams "don't touch me, I don't need you" but whispers "if you
leave me I'll die". In short, it's about being a teenager.