Given the amount of time that I spend flicking through the channels on my much-maligned Freeview 'digibox', E4's trailers for its new big hope Skins have been hard to avoid. Cliché after cliché presented itself to me as average-looking but overstyled teenagers writhed, puked and smoked their way through 30 seconds of 'Standing in the Way of Control' by The Gossip.
I hate feeling as if I'm being bullied into watching something but such was the media onslaught I felt that I'd simply be a cultural refusenik if I didn't tune in to the first episode. This was screened last night and lasted an hour. The premise is simple enough: a group of 21st Century teens do what teens are supposed to do, or at least do what producers ten years their senior think they should be doing, which according to 'Skins' is steal cars, buy £300 of weed, have eating disorders, self harm, swear a lot and be generally irritating. So far, so run-of-the-mill. Skins' USP was that although each show was scripted by 'adults', no one on the production team (or scriptwriting team; I can't remember) was over the age of 26. Not only that, but scripts were written by, among others, ex Popworld host Simon Amstell and the writers of some episodes of Shameless. But hold on, it gets even better. In an attempt to be even more ground-breaking, much of the dialogue was provided by real life, actual teenagers, for that extra dash of authenticity. I had forgotten the latter fact, and it was only as I wondered halfway through why it was so unnervingly SHIT that I remembered.
This attempt at being authentic was the first mistake and the reason that the whole thing seemed so contrived, so pointless and so fake. I remember writing plays and short stories in my teenage years. The teenage characters all spoke to each other like they were shit and swore incessantly. This wasn't what real life was like for me at all, but in my then limited experience, that's how I imagined cool, chilled teenagers would speak. They've get pissed and sneak out behind their parents' backs, have loads of anonymous sex and generally behave like the teenagers in Skins. So, had the show's writing team been rifling through my old manuscripts or is it that when asked to portray teenage life, actual teens will exaggerate and beef it up big time in an effort to appear more interesting, exotic and unusual? They'd love to be going to parties in huge houses and wrecking the joint before escaping in a stolen Merc while been given a throaty BJ from an exchange student, but it just doesn't happen that way, does it?
Of course, the teens didn't write the whole thing, although Channel 4 have hinted that if the show is re-commissioned the teenagers will write the scripts themselves with more experienced writers tidying them up. Perhaps if the programme lives to see another season, we can look forward to the teenage boys spunking all over Angelina Jolie's tits, winning the World Cup single-handedly or taking part in space travel while all the girls will fight over Orlando Bloom and do endless shoe shopping in New York.
Skins is, essentially, a two-way fantasy. With the exception that they're difficult to like most of the time, the teens depicted in the programme bear little relation to any real life teen holed up in their bedroom watching it. Not only does the show describe the daydreams of the teens involved in its development, but it's also an outlet for the long-lost desires of the twenty-somethings on the production team. This dope-smoking, effortlessly cool, overachieving, have-it-all group of multicultural teens of both genders are the adolescents that the show's staff always wanted to be, but never were. Just as its stablemate Shameless is a crap, cartoonish middle-class idealisation of what it's like to live on a rundown council estate, so is Skins a holiday in Hollywood-style teen perfection, with scuffed edges to make it more 'real'. It's escapism masquerading as a window on the world. Even Footballers' Wives had more of a grip on reality. I realise I'm way out of this show's target demographic, but it's as unconvincing as it is dull.