Monday, January 31, 2011

Skins Series 5: Frankie

Everyone’s been making such a fuss about Skins lately. The MTV one, I mean. Unfortunately, everyone is focusing on issues of obscenity and advertiser pullouts and not, as Meredith Blake pointed out at the AV Club, the fact that the US version of Skins is not very good. It has the look of the UK Skins with none of the heart and guts. But you know what is really good? UK Skins, the new season of which premiered last Thursday.

Series 5 has already been dubbed “the ugly season” by many of the show’s fans. But all discussion as to the veracity of that statement is rendered unimportant by the powerful opening episode and the fascinating character at its center. Frankie is a tiny androgynous pixie who makes beautiful stop-motion animations on her laptop and carries around the star of her animation, a jointed blank-faced wooden doll, in her pocket. Sometimes she talks to the doll.

After stealing a motorized wheelchair to escape from a group of male public school bullies, Frankie makes a big entrance to Roundview College, crashing into the bike rack and almost hitting Mini, a tall blond who is outgoing and ultra-feminine. After a conflict during field hockey, Mini seems to welcome Frankie into her group, which includes Olivia and Grace. The group heads to the mall after school for some shopping, stealing, and running from mall security to beautiful hip music.

One of the things that Skins does extremely well is showing group dynamics. Without saying a word, the writers and actors show that Mini is the alpha female, that she is very mean, that this meanness stems from jealousy and insecurity, and that her friends, Olivia and Grace, don’t like it when Mini is mean but usually follow her lead anyway. This is done mainly through glances, like the predatory ones Mini gives Frankie as she invites her to her party and forces her to purchase a short sparkly dress that Frankie would never feel comfortable wearing, or the exasperated and frustrated look that Olivia gives Mini when she says “We’re not in grade 11 anymore,” or the ashamed way that Grace looks down when Frankie confronts Mini at her party.

Another thing that Skins loves to point out is that adults are ridiculous. This can be seen in the way Doug, the head of Roundview College, forces Frankie to participate in gym, wearing ridiculous clothes from the lost and found box, rather than just letting her sit out the day. More devastatingly, it can be seen in the apparent lack of consequences for the students who bullied Frankie at her old school, or even the ones who are starting to bully her at her new school. And even though her dads obviously love her very much, the only tangible support they offer Frankie is a lame admonition to fight back this time and a quick eye makeup fix.

Frankie ultimately makes it through her first couple of days at Roundview (after that scary gun interlude) with her spirit and sense of self intact. She triumphantly burns the blue sequined dress. She even manages to inspire Grace to leave Mini’s party with two stolen bottles of champagne and to bring her, along with the red-headed boy and the metalhead boy, to a beautifully lit and apparently deserted pool for a little night swimming.

If all of the other characters of this Skins generation are as beautifully realized and original as Frankie, this season may be one of the best yet.

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