If admirers of the last series of Skins can stop longingly gazing at their fixed-gear bikes for long enough to check out the new one, they will discover that the revived version is a bit different to what they have seen before. In 2013, Skins has grown-up properly. It wears a suit or dress, but don’t worry, most of the time the dress still lacks the knickers. In other words, it’s evolved. All the rage and inner-turmoil of the previous series’ is there, of course – Skins wouldn’t be Skins without it! – but now there’s no time for basic immaturity and running around in slow-motion, smiling a lot. Ah, the giddy heights of self-awareness and being an adult. Instead, in this powerful new series which sees our cast chucked into London’s (half) theatrical grimness, everyone is constantly so mature that even the most basic action is under-pinned by a highly contemplated move. A symbol which suggests that, no matter how stupid their cursed actions are, the character understands this and is doing it anyway, because this is London. Fuck off, I’m in London, I can act exactly how I want now. You get it, that kind of thing.
In the first episode of the series, everyone’s favourite fuck-up Elizabeth “Effy” Stonem proved this on multiple occasions. Not only is Effy now more together than anyone else on-screen (stop laughing), but she’s capable of incredible feats of workplace magic which will have anyone who has ever appeared on The Apprentice very, very angry indeed. (Seriously, this is Skins, take it seriously. It’s time to stop laughing now.)
In Pure, we move away from Effy’s latest terrible life decisions, leave some of the depressing stuff behind, and head over to meet Cassie in episode 2.
Pure opens well. A bit too well, actually. In fact, the opening scene is so well-shot and photogenic that it sickens you to take it in. I almost had to look away (not that it mattered. A washing-line can only hold my attention so far). At the same time, this is one of its enormous attributes (but don’t worry, the sickening factor is kept somewhere between the self-centred toxic blurgh of Hollyoaks and the brutal cringeworthy shame of hideous C4 creation PhoneShop). The cast, writers and director of Skins know full-well that they can more or less vomit on-screen, make a complete pig’s ear of the story (as Nan used to say), dismantle your self-respect for human beings one-by-one and still force you to enjoy it.
You could say Skins has got you.
Leading on from the irritatingly sumptuous first few seconds, we meet familiar Skins star Cassie, crouching down beside her like the ghost of quite a creepy uncle who has just bought a video camera and has very steady hands and knees. One of the most innocent-looking females to grace a screen in the last few years, as well as the kind of girl that the aforementioned Effy would either love (let’s hug!) or hate (push down a handily located Canary Wharf mineshaft, for example), Cassie is so pure, so bloody perfect, so immune to looking bad in the morning, that as light fills her room and the story begins, you find yourself thinking things like I hate myself for watching this, but I’m going to watch it anyway. Even if I am 32 and well out of the range of the intended target audience. (A joke in itself, of course. The producers may have made this look like it’s for teenagers only, but they clearly designed it to be just as tempting for people like me. They knew we’d be powerless to resist. Once again: shit).
Now here’s what you wanted to hear: the story behind Skins: Pure is actually surprising good. It resonates with people. It has faults and the characters are likeable and really quite realistic. Note that I did not say plausible, but that hardly matters, does it? You want plausible, you fail to fill in your tax return and receive a nasty fine. People don’t watch Skins for its supreme likeness to real-life, they watch it to escape the clutches of their tax return and jump into a world where you can be really reckless and still look proper cool (which reminds me: I really need to remember to fill in my own tax return!). They watch it, probably, because of all the sharp angles and contrast. Say what you want, but when it comes to contrast and gritty dialogue, the new series is almost like the visual embodiment of what happens when you have a lovely bath in a room where a strange new housemate has, just minutes before, done a big stinky horrendous poo. Probably best to not visualise that, then.
Back to Cassie. Cassie is mysterious in ways untold (figure of speech. They are soon told, don’t worry). Pretty but she doesn’t even know it (although actually she quite clearly does). Cassie is one of those annoying young girl’s you see who says on TV “I can’t believe I’ve got through to the finals of [insert name of TV modelling competition]!” when it’s really fucking obvious to the entire nation. Cassie is naïve yet not naïve yet…er, still quite naïve. It gets confusing. I’m baffled. Anyway, she’s well-acted by Hannah Murray, so that’s a good thing. Above all else, Cassie clearly has an inner-strength which is quite powerful. Beneath all the looking like she’s never even heard of Jim Davidson, she is a tough cookie. As the 2 episodes continue, Cassie follows the Effy book of doing things which you know you definitely should not do – one of these things is having perfectly-lit sex with a muscular Israeli called Yaniv who is arrogant yet sensitive, bone-headed yet capable of standing still long enough to look insightful (but always seriously arrogant). Basically, it’s a classic Skins style catalogue of errors, and if Cassie was your daughter then you’d be living in a state of perpetual terror.
Without wanting to ruin it all for you, someone starts taking photographs of Cassie and showing them to lots of people. Cassie is upset by this, goes on the hunt to find the taker of the photos – this is where the improbable bit comes in – and ends up regretting it bigtime. Along the way, Cassie visits the always beautiful Wales, visits her dad who you will certainly recognise as a man behaving badly, breaks into the international modelling world as a rising star (!), and stands in front of her bedroom window a lot gazing longingly into the night wearing very little (it has to be said – initially not the best idea if your intention is to maintain your privacy).
But Skins is still good anyway. It still has me. I bet it’ll still have you, even if you hate that fact.