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Skins: "Michelle"

Illustration for article titled Skins: "Michelle"
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As the American version of Skins has plodded along, I have slowly and begrudgingly come to accept the show for what it is (an unremarkable B-grade teenage melodrama), rather than what it isn’t (the British version of Skins). With a remake, of course, the constant temptation is to endlessly compare it to its original.  The fact that several episodes of this version of Skins are nearly shot-for-shot remakes of the original forced the comparison. But the MTV series is at its strongest when, rather than trying to recreate the curious charm of its predecessor, it works within its own limitations.

Tonight’s episode follows Michelle (Rachel Thevenard), Tony’s long-suffering girlfriend. Like so many hot girls in high school, Michelle’s got some serious self-esteem issues. Exhibit A: Even though she caught him making out with Tabitha, the blonde choirgirl, a few weeks back, Michelle got back with Tony almost instantly. Exhibit B: She tells Tony she loves him, right after they’ve had sex in a back hallway at rave. He pretends he can’t hear her. It’s little wonder that Michelle is such a hot mess. Her mother, who brings home a constant stream of anonymous men to the house, is not exactly a sterling example. (Is it just me, or do all the mothers on this show sort of morph into a single, broad caricature of a MILF?) A mix-up at the gynecologist’s office—he gets Michelle mixed up with her mother, who apparently gets tested for STDs every three months. (Hey, she might be easy, but at least she’s vigilant!)


In another scene, the school principal gives Michelle a talking-to about her grades. Turns out that Michelle is a exceptionally bright student with great potential, but she’s still getting Cs and Ds.  The principal tells Michelle to stop pretending to be stupid, and that the boy she’s probably dating isn’t worth it in the long run. (Oddly, she also told Michelle to wear different shoes with the skirt she had on; I wasn’t sure what to make of this line. Was it meant to undermine the principal?)  It’s your standard high school pop-psychology—pretty girl will do anything for male attention, including playing dumb—but there’s some sharp dialogue in the scene. It’s also nice to see Michelle get a bit of a backstory; in the British Skins, Michelle always seemed a little too aloof.

Anyway, the motivational speech ends, and, like clockwork, Michelle gets the horrible news: she’s got chlamydia. Her mother brushes it off—“It’s just like a cold”—but understandably, Michelle is hardly reassured. If she’s got “the clap,” as Tony rather anachronistically called it (little known fact: Tony is actually a sailor from 1942), then someone else is going to suffer. Michelle’s first order of business—after punching Tony in the face, that is—is tracking down the brazen hussy who slept with her boyfriend and gave him VD. In her anger, she lashes out at everyone, including Daisy, who helpfully offers up a list of the many, many girls Tony has hooked up with behind Michelle’s back. Daisy is all, "Oh, let’s see. There’s Many Overbite, Tracy With the Braces, Black Tracy. Do you want me to keep going?" It was a potentially funny scene, but as with so much of the humor on this show, the comedy lands with a gentle thud. In any case, Michelle, as teenage girls inflamed with rage are wont to do, lashes out at the wrong person—in this case, Daisy.

Michelle’s quest to locate patient zero is unfruitful, until a serendipitous afternoon in class. Tony once again calls Michelle “Nips,” one of the humiliating little nicknames he’s come up with for her. She orders Tony to quit it with the Nips and on the way back to her seat bumps into Tea’s bag. Out spills a box of doxycycline, the very same medicine that Michelle’s been using for her Chlamydia.  Michelle—who, in case you didn’t hear, is not stupid—puts two and two together. This leads to the obvious question: Where’d Tea get the Chlamydia?

The STD plotline is new to the American series, and I think it actually kind of works. I don’t know why it was added—maybe to satisfy the puritanical American need to punish the iniquitous, or maybe it was a product placement deal with doxycycline. In any case, it expedites Michelle’s break-up with Tony, and it gives her all the more reason to seek a little affection from Stan. In the UK series, I never really bought the Michelle-Sid flirtation; perhaps I was just blinded by my allegiance to Cassie. I feel no such loyalty to Cadie, so I can comfortably say that there is something sweet, however contrived, about “Stanny and Fanny.”


Until this episode, Thevenard hasn’t been given much to do other than roll her eyes at Tony and prance around in short tube skirts, so I was pleasantly surprised by her performance. She chewed poor James Newman to pieces in their final confrontation, and her tearful scene on the Chinatown bus with Betty was—dare I say it—touching.  It’s the first time I’ve really cared about a character on this version of Skins, which is a big milestone. My only complaint is Thevenard’s very Canadian accent. We all know Skins is shot in Canada, but can’t you just indulge us a little bit?

Ah, yes, aboot that. There is just something so very… Canadian about this show, isn’t there? Like pornography, Canadian-ness is hard to define, but you know it when you see it—and of course, when you hear it. There’s just something so aggressively generic about all the spaces the characters inhabit, something so mild and forgettable about so many of the supporting day players. Theoretically, it shouldn’t matter where Skins takes place, but the lack of any geographical or regional references makes the show’s drama feel generic, rather than universal. In her review of Skins that ran in last week’s New Yorker, Nancy Franklin wrote: “While Canada is not exactly what we think of as a foreign country, I did register the feeling that I was watching things happening elsewhere, outside the country I live in. Perhaps that’s why… I had the overall sense that the show was not entirely real.” I think she nails it.


One thing before I go. I happen to have liked this episode, yet while watching it, I was struck by a troubling recurring theme on Skins. Each of the three girls the series has followed so far—Michelle, Tea, and Cadie—is sexually reckless to the point of being self-destructive. Cadie tried to sleep with one of Michelle’s mom’s boyfriends after being rejected by Stan; Tea sleeps with Tony, even though she’s a lesbian; Michelle sleeps with Tony after she sees him with Tabitha and again after finding out he gave her an STD. I’m not the mother of a teenage girl, but if I were, this aspect of the show would worry me more than anything. Sex is one thing, but all the self-loathing, too? I realize these issues are deeply intertwined and that teenagers are, by and large, a crazy lot. Still, it would be nice if one female character had a less pathological view of sex.  Based on the previews for next week (and "Jal" from the British series) it looks like Daisy might be the antidote to all this female neurosis. I certainly hope so.

Stray observations:

  • "You're a popular redhead. Why would you understand anything?"
  • "Why would I listen to a confused lesbian slut?"
  • “I'm just too bright for you. And so is she. Good luck with all your shit.”

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