(Written for the Falmouth Navigator).
The acclaimed UK teen-drama ‘Skins’ returned with a new series last week whilst the US remake began in America. America responded by criticising the program in every way, yet the UK freely accept its portrayal of teenage life. So what has provoked this intense response from America and why is this contrast in opinions so extreme?
Skins is a British drama portraying the lives of a group of teenagers in Bristol during their two years of sixth form. First aired in the UK in January 2007, the program deals with situations that teenagers are often faced with such as drugs, sexuality and relationships which often brings it a lot of controversy.
The start of the UK’s fifth series, with its third-generation cast, reached over one million viewers on its return last Thursday. The start of the US remake, however, devastated its viewers and has been described as “the most dangerous television show for children ever”.
The US version, which aired on MTV on 17th January, attracted 3.3 million viewers between the ages of 12 and 34. It has since lost many of its major sponsors with Subway being the latest to pull its advertising from the show, including others such as Taco Bell and Wrigley.
The fast food chain’s move came after the Parents Television Council (PTC) started a pressure campaign urging its 1.3 million members to complain to Subway. The PTC’s purpose is to encourage responsible behaviour through the entertainment industry and to protect children from violence, sex and bad language. They are now aiming to convince other sponsors to pull out as well.
“We know that not every show works for every advertiser,” replied MTV. “That said, we are confident that Skins will continue to connect with the audience it was created for and that advertisers will take advantage of the opportunity to reach them.”
However, like the UK’s cast of Skins, the US version uses actual teenage actors, of which some are under 18, unlike most other American teen-dramas such as 90210 and Glee who use much older actors. The program then sees these actors in many sexual scenarios and are often naked or in acts of arousal which the PTC has alleged as “child pornography” and have called for an investigation into.
MTV executives were also concerned that the program might violate US child pornography laws which forbids the visual depiction of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct, but replied that they have “taken numerous steps to alert viewers to the strong subject matter so that they can choose for themselves whether it is appropriate.”
Although Skins US is licensed to be significantly edgier than the average US teen series, the show’s co-creator Bryan Elsley had to steer carefully to appease MTV, which meant not using strong language (which would be ‘bleeped’ out anyway) and no showing of nipples.
But the predicament with the US version begins with it being a remake of the UK series, sometimes repeating whole chunks of dialogue from the series that we originally watched four years ago. The problem here being that this is a portrayal of teenagers in England and not in America, something the PTC described as a “foul teenage soap opera” that “glorifies teens drinking, smoking marijuana and having sex” even before it aired in America.
Fortunately, other UK series that have aired in America, whose pilot shows have been a remake such as The Office, have then angled off into their own version of the program to fit with the audience’s response. So maybe there is still hope, and after being Americanised to suit its viewers, and maybe also the PTC, it won’t provoke such a negative response.