E4’s popular teen drama, Skins, returned for a seventh series this week in a slightly new shape. Following a precedent set by the creators of US dramas such as Desperate Housewives and One Tree Hill, long-term Skins writers Bryan Elsley and Jamie Brittain have made a wise decision to flash-forward in the lives of their most-watched characters.
Skins has never been afraid of shaking things up; every two series its cast of Bristol sixth form students were traded in, supposedly to allow for new talent. Although few Skins alumni have remained in the spotlight (an obvious exception being Dev ‘Slumdog’ Patel) the ever-changing group of characters helped keep the show fresher for longer. But it couldn’t avoid a problem many teen/high-school shows suffer from; there are only so many storylines available, many of them clichéd, and writers often eventually resort to tedious repetition. Visiting the characters later in life attempts to combat this.
Skins: Fire takes Kaya Scodelario’s Effy, from the first four series, as its main focus. Effy was at first a relatively minor role: the sister of a more central character, Tony (Nicholas Hoult). Scodelario survived the first cast changeover, and Effy became the show’s focal point for the successive two series. Skins’ format change (there will be only 3 episodes instead of 8-10, 3 two-parters each focussing on one cast member) and time jump is a smart move as the viewers who enjoyed Effy’s stories in previous episodes have also aged a few years since she was last on our screens.
This time round we’re in London rather than Bristol (as decent aerial shots of landmark buildings such as the Gherkin prove throughout), and Effy is working as a secretary/general dogsbody for a hedge fund staffed mainly by unprofessional arseholes. Despite the mind-numbing tasks she’s assigned Effy is ambitious, and behaves in a rather Erin Brockovich fashion by taking on work for which she is not officially qualified. She displays a knack for dealing with sleazy investors, however, and achieves a promotion.
Much of the financial lingo is far from being common knowledge, but the show seems aware of this. Effy is a novice too, but she’s provided with a mentor in the form of Dom (Submarine’s Craig Roberts), a banker working nearby. The first episode yields the return of a disappointing number of original characters – just Effy and Naomi (Lily Loveless) –though more are set to appear, and in this instalment Dom makes up for it. He’s adorable, a perfect counterpart to Effy’s smug office superior Jake (Kayvan Novak). Unfortunately Effy doesn’t agree with this assessment.
The episode is at first rather slow moving, but there are a few noteworthy details. Effy’s co-worker at the hedge fund, played by Amy Wren who also starred with Scodelario in Andrea Arnold’s Wuthering Heights, takes cues from the secretaries of Mad Men in terms of dress sense. It’s the details which engage before plot, and many are reminiscent of other programmes or films. An arresting opening depicts a stream of rain-soaked London commuters traversing a bridge, teasing the viewer into searching out Effy, as 1999’s Never Been Kissed prompts audiences to search for Drew Barrymore’s Josie.
Other details frustrate by virtue of their unrealism; multiple shots of Effy standing on escalators in the London Underground display walls devoid of the theatre advertisements which can seem an integral part of travelling on the tube. Even worse, most of the music is infuriatingly frenetic.
Effy’s flatmate, Naomi, hasn’t really grown out of the wild antics Skins documented from its first series, and the climax of her storyline here is disappointingly rushed and predictable. However, there’s just about enough suspense to intrigue, and the emotive acting (largely from Loveless) does make Skins’ return a worthwhile watch.
Skins: Fire Part 1 is available on 4od and Part 2 airs next Monday on e4 at 10pm.