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'Skins' recap: 'Nobody matches up to me'

Skins tea

Since last week's premiere, MTV's "Skins" has faced attacks on two fronts. The biggest and scariest offensive is, of course, against the Parents Television Council, which has already persuaded six advertisers (Taco Bell, GM, Wrigley, H&R Block, Schick and Subway) to pull out of the show and is also urging the federal government to investigate "Skins" for child pornography.

Less threatening but equally vocal is the substantial contingent of critics who, having seen only the series' debut episode, have declared it an utter travesty. Their main complaints seem to be that MTV's "Skins" is an amateur-hour ripoff of the original and that, try as we may, Americans just will never be as cool as Brits, so we might as well give up now.

If there is any justice in the world (and I realize that's a big "if"), this week's episode will quiet both groups. It was thoughtful, character-driven, touching and miles from morally bankrupt, as well as totally different from any story line we saw on "Skins" U.K. Series creator Bryan Elsley has said he replaced the British character Maxxie, a gay boy, with Tea, a lesbian, because he needed to create a role that would allow him to cast actress Sofia Black-D'Elia. After watching an entire episode built around Tea, it's easy to see why. By far the most charismatic actor on the MTV series, Black-D'Elia is confident, subtle and emotionally honest.

In her hands, and those of the "Skins" writing staff, Tea is more than just The Gay Character -- the high schooler we all know from teen dramas and coming-of-age movies, who struggles to come out of the closet and teaches everyone a very important lesson about tolerance. While she may not be out at home, her friends already know she's interested in women and accept her sexual orientation without question. In fact, she's not even shy about popping a pill, donning a sequined tank top and walking into the coolest lesbian dance party in town like she owns the place.

Tea's struggle isn't about anything as simple as which gender she's attracted to. She suffers from a far more universal teenage affliction, and one that's much harder to cure. After bedding Betty, a girl from her class at school who's been using a clueless boyfriend to hide her preference for women, Tea quickly loses interest in her. "We had sex. But I'm not looking for anything else," she says when Betty approaches Tea with a meaningful look in her eyes. "I don't want a relationship." "Why not?" asks Betty. "Because nobody matches up to me," says Tea, sounding defensive and unsure and narcissistic all at once.

At dinner that night, Tea manages to quiet down her big, loud, Italian and Jewish family for a moment, perhaps to make her big coming-out announcement. But before she can say anything, her pregnant sister's water breaks. So Tea retreats to her bedroom instead, to stare at her Audrey Hepburn poster and masturbate -- until her apparently senile grandma barges in and climbs into bed with her. "Something's wrong with me, Nana," Tea confesses. "I want the sex, but the girls I sleep with bore me. Is it too much to ask for someone to be interesting?" It's a question that must occur to every smart teenager eventually, when the world of home and high school and dating (or just hooking up) starts to feel hopelessly small.

By some mistake of fate, Tea ends up on a blind date with Tony. They both agree to it as a paid favor to their fathers, who are somehow involved in a mafia-like organization. Tony and Tea laugh about their weird luck, buy a bottle of vodka with the money they've earned, and swig it on a merry-go-round in a public park. But it's clear that Tony doesn't quite see their date as a joke. He pursues her, seeming almost resentful of how closed off she is: "You hold back. Nobody gets in. Mysterious." The words could almost as easily apply to him, and that's the point. That someone else could be so intelligent, unflappable and self-contained drives him crazy. When Tony tells Tea, "I can match you," he sounds like he's trying to convince himself of it, too.

Tea soon gives him the opportunity to try it. They go somewhere quiet and put on music. They dance, make out, have a tense, weird and silent stand-off -- and then they sleep together, even though Tea likes girls and Tony is dating Michelle. But this isn't really about sex or sexuality, anyway; it's about Tea's search for an equal and Tony's compulsion to conquer someone he can't control. It's about power. And, although he tells Tea, "I matched you. I matched you good," neither of them get what they want out of the encounter.

When Tea finally finds someone she can relate to, it isn't a friend, lover or classmate -- it's her grandmother. Sad and lonely, she crawls into bed with Nana. Although at first it seems the old woman is rambling incoherently, as usual, her monologue soon shapes itself into a heartbreaking story from her own youth. As a young woman, Nana fell in love with a woman, but their families pulled them apart: "They even gave us a name, so everybody knew what to hate. 'Lavender.' " she recalls. "They knew we loved each other. ... I heard she married a farmer in Wisconsin." Her tough shell is broken, and Tea dissolves into tears.

The next day at school, Betty marches up to Tea in the cafeteria and gives her a big kiss, as her boyfriend, his jock friends and a roomful of their classmates look on. We're left wondering whether Tea will finally let someone in or find another excuse to pull away. With this episode, "Skins" has given us a whole, unique and sympathetic -- but also deeply imperfect -- character. Let's hope she's the first of many -- and that the troubled series sticks around long enough to show them to us.

Your weekly top five parental panic moments:

5. Tea parties all night and brings Betty to stay over. Her dad believes that they were studying.
4. Tea masturbates in front of her grandmother.
3. Tea swigs a mini bottle of vodka in the hall at school.
2. Tea has sex with Tony, who's dating Michelle.
1.  Before she goes out, Tea casually pops an unidentified pill. (All in all, a relatively tame week.)

RELATED

Full Show Tracker coverage of "Skins"

-- Judy Berman

Photo: Sofia Black-D'Elia as Tea. Credit: Jason Nocito

 
Comments () | Archives (12)

Everyone who helped make this show should be thrown in jail... the writers, producers, actors, directors...all of them! Hollywood has dropped to a new low. Child porn is illegal and whoever helped get this show on TV should be prosecuted for contributing to the creation of child porn.

And for the Brit's...what are they thinking??!!?? Americans will never be as cool as Brit's?? If being cool is having TV shows where underage actors are portraying underage characters that are drinking, smoking, having sex, lying to their parents...then it's time for people in the UK to have a reality check...and a sanity check.

Anyone who has kids should realize the horror of this show, and help get it off the air. Just blocking MTV, or turning the channel is not a good enough answer! We need this show off the air, and people who helped get it on the air should be punished.

I am a 30 something mother of 3, none of whom I would allow to watch this show until they turn 17, however I have to say I love this show am addicted already. It is a very real portrayal of teens all over the USA. In fact, I think the draw to these characters is due to the fact that they are so relatable to most everyone past and present, who has been, or is currently a teenager. It certainly brings me back to my high school days some 20 years ago! The characters are sweet, likable, (even lovable?), and leaving you wanting to know more about their lives while enjoying this smart storyline.
I understand the controversy. There are laws in place for a reason - for the protection of minors. I also wonder what the effect of the more controversial items such as drugs and drinking will have on impressionable younger teens. That being said, the storyline is relatable because it is already happing everywhere, not that I condone it, but these ideas are not new because of this show.
I really hope there is a way for the producers to balance this wonderful, smart show along with the responsibility needed to these young actors and their viewers.

love the review, I was surprised this episode wasn't another carbon copy of the uk edition. tea does make a great addition!

Judy Berman,
Are you the author of this article? I haven't seen the show, nor any previews of it, and I don't intend to! Do you have a daughter? Or even a niece? How can you say that the glorification of Tea's behavior is 'relatively tame'? What on earth are we telling our children and our daughters if this is the kind of behavior that gets publicity and attention? By all means, masturbate in front of your poor disillusion grandmother, take home two different people to have sexual relations with in one week, then ask yourself why your soul is screaming out from the depths of Hell and you want to obliterate your own existence.

Our youth need a call to be, to do, and to expect more out of life than this crap! My God justify the evil that these producers spread when they create this disgusting excuse for entertainment!

Perhaps they need to be viewed within context, but the lines, "Nobody matches up to me" and "Is it too much to ask for someone to be interesting?" don't exactly scream vulnerable or even honest. Obviously, skillful writing and acting can present a different subtext, but the way the lines are presented in the promos, it comes off as controversy-provoking bravado. And I don't quite see how the write-up here changes that.

I really liked this episode. Proof that the show can find it's footing once it veers into original territory. The best part of Skins is when it goes beyond the superficial and we get to catch a glimpse of what these kids are really going through. I think Tea's a perfect example of that.

This show is legit. There's not a single show on TV right now that has teenagers down pat like Skins US. Gossip Girl, GLEE, The OC, etc. are all popular and more importantly are all wrong.

It'll be a SHAME if this show gets cancelled. I can't believe six of their sponsors dropped them in advertisements.

The backlash from the fans of the UK version is ridiculous. Minds were made before the show even aired. The US version of Skins is clearly superior to the UK version. If you don't think so, come at me.

It's obviously NOT a rip-off, considering it's from the same creators. Unless there are people out there who want to accuse Bryan Elsley/Jamie Brittain for ripping Bryan Elsey/Jamie Brittain off and still look like they know what they're talking about, I'd suggest for them to shut it. There's more to a television show than acting, and the Skins characters offer a lot more to teens than Gossip Girl or GLEE (while a very good show) does.

The character Tea is unlike any teenage character I've ever seen before on TV, that's including UK Skins. She puts them ALL to shame with her Jewish mafia dad, Lavender Scare survivor grandmother, straightforward personality, affinity for Audrey Hepburn/E.E. Cummings, and lack of interest in a relationship with girls. I consider her to be groundbreaking, which Maxxie in the UK Skins (or any teen gay character I've ever watched, which is to say MANY) NEVER was.

In fact, even if Maxxie were a major character, I'm SURE he would hold less interest than Kurt from GLEE.

The characters are naughty, like most teenagers in the year 2011, but they end up in trouble because of it. There's a moral to every story, unless you're a bad writer, which, clearly Bryan Elsey is NOT. Considering this show has been wholly misinterpreted by American parents leads me to further believe that American parents are either ignorant or haven't raised their children to properly deal with the consequences of drugs and sex and alcohol.

I'm a teenager, and I know that teaching your kids the consequences is doable. We may like to party, but no one likes to look stupid, you know.

@Jennifer and possibly also @Joshua.

I understand your concerns. But I still think you shouldn't judge a book/show/movie without having watched/read it first yourselves. Obviously, nobody condones this kind of behaviour, but it is necessary to portray it as truthfully as it happens in real life (to some, not to everyone, of course).

Chances are, the kids who are out there acting in this behaviour aren't sitting at home watching this show.

I'm more shocked and appalled that Joshua and Jennifer would waste their time to bash something they clearly don't have an understanding of. Home is where the trash is, and the behavior the both of you have displayed on here is equivalent to the bullying nature that goes on within the halls of schools across the nation now, leaving kids either scared/ashamed of themselves or, worse, committing suicide. It's time that parents take responsibility for what goes on in their households and stop looking for a scapegoat for their failures in parenting.

As for this review, Judy you came up with a different take on this episode than I did in my review, but I clearly see each and every point that you make. It never crossed my mind that Tea could be a complete power struggle for Tony, but I did also notice it bothering him that he couldn't get what he wanted at the time, which is Tea.

I also thought the fact that Tea found her match in the opposite sex completely blew away the world she so called thought she knew. Instead of correcting her Dad in what LeDong called her, she just let it be. Could it be because she's not so sure about who she is anymore?

Either way, you so have an ally in the Skins war! Great review/analysis!

Mark O. Estes -

Do you have kids?? How about I come over and show them how cool it is to smoke, drink, and have sex..oh, that would make you mad wouldn't it??? I understand that teens do this already. But if you can't see how this show will influence our teens today (some not all, but any is too many) to do the same things, then I fear for your children. It's simple.. .it's called peer pressure. Kids look at these so called life-like shows as a peer. We need to be encouraging our children NOT to act like this.. and showing "cool" actors doing these things is the exact oppisite... now do you get it??? I hope so, for your childrens sake.

'the US skins superior to UK skins '
are you mental?
The first last two series weren't great i have to admit, but the first 2 were miles better than US. Sorry, but has to be said.

People need to stop acting like all the kids are going out tonight to have sex, buy drugs, and participate in illegal activities.

I'm a teenager and I love this show. I don't affiliate with these activities, but I do agree with many people that this show shines a light on the lives of many teens.

1. If you educated your children well and taught them self respect, they probably won't do this.

2. If your kid wants to do drugs he'll/she'll do it, no matter if this show existed or not.

3. Drugs and sex are in our lives, deal with it and get over it.


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