'Skins' recap: 'No drama. No emotions.'
Eight episodes in, it's finally becoming clear what kind of show MTV's "Skins" is going to be. Its British predecessor strikes an odd, charming and delicate balance, juggling teenage life's ugly truth, the wide-eyed, almost fairy-tale romanticism of its young actors and writers, and the random cruelty of fate. But the American series' attempts to emulate the U.K. show's style have fallen flat, as in the context-free episode about Abbud, which had some fine moments but lacked a compelling core.
MTV's "Skins" is at its best when it sticks close to its characters, tells their stories in an honest way and manages to make us care about them. While British Michelle was fine as a one-dimensional pushover who existed solely to highlight Tony's moral bankruptcy, MTV's Michelle is the kind of smart, decent, yet troubled girl I actually want to root for.
This may mean that when it finally puts the U.K. series' influence behind it, the show will turn out to be a more conventional teen drama than British "Skins" fans have come to expect. It's easy to be disappointed by this, but stories about normal, mostly working-class high schoolers are rare enough on TV, in this era of rich kids and vampires, that the success of a more realistic, less fantastical "Skins" would still be welcome.
This week's episode was a confident step in that direction. Finally, we meet Daisy! Unlike the show's other neglected character, Abbud, her episode actually brings us deep into her life -- and away from the four characters (Michelle, Tony, Tea and Stanley) who have dominated much of this season. We even get to know Abbud better.
Daisy is the "Skins" crew's designated therapist, confidant and peacemaker. When Michelle finds out Tony's cheating on her, it's Daisy who has to listen to her cry in a bathroom stall. When Chris works up the courage to visit his dad, she's the one who comes along and runs after him to the graveyard when he can't stand to be in that house a second longer.
Even at the Hooters-like restaurant where she's a waitress, her pals won't leave her alone. "This place is offensive to women," says Abbud as Daisy stands over the table where he and Stanley are sitting. "Awesomely offensive." But the duo of virgins aren't just there for the view. "We've come to see you so you can fix everything," Abbud tells her. They want her to run interference between each of them and the other parties affected by Tony, Michelle and Tea's blowout.
She reluctantly agrees to preside over Abbud and Tea's "couples counseling," only to be interrupted by Tony, who overhears Tea confess her feelings for him. "I screwed him, OK?" she begins. "And it was terrible. There's something in him I can't help wanting." The session, such as it is, devolves into an emotional free-for-all, with Daisy caught in the crossfire. She gives much more to her friends than she ever gets back, and how do they repay her? By making fun of her dedication to the trumpet.
Of course, Daisy has no shortage of her own problems to solve. She may be intelligent, composed and talented at the trumpet, but she's not getting any support at home. Her mother is gone, and she works hard to save money for a summer music program and help her dad pay the rent on their small, institutional apartment. When she leaves work, she comes home to a mess and cleans that up too.
That doesn't mean her father cuts her any slack. A postman who used to be a talented pianist, he banished music from his house after his wife, a successful singer, left him. "I need quiet," he insists when he comes home to hear her younger sister rapping. Daisy has to sneak out at night to play her trumpet at the jazz club where her parents were once regulars. The only person who really listens to her is Farley, a former friend of her dad's who runs the bar and serves as her de facto music teacher.
In the midst of a particularly intense lesson, Daisy's dad barges in, tells off Farley and tries to grab the trumpet out of her hands. "If you bend my horn, I swear I'll leave you and never come back," she says, clutching the instrument.
Sick of being the good, solid, dependable friend and obedient daughter, Daisy decides to do something wild. She meets up with Abbud, and they commiserate about their strict, immigrant families. "I love my culture," he says. "I just wish it ran a looser line on the main amphetamine groups." Although he might still love Tea and Daisy doesn't seem to have romantic feelings for him, she proposes that they lose their virginity to each other -- as friends -- while her dad's out of the house. She sets the ground rules for their hook-up: "No drama," they agree. "No emotions or anything else."
Their attempt at a reckless night of passion is thwarted when they open the door to Daisy's apartment and find her sister rocking the mike at the center of a nightmarish party. There are beer bottles everywhere, kids have tagged the walls and her dad's valuable piano is broken. All Daisy wants is an hour of irresponsible fun, but suddenly she's thrust back into caretaker mode. Faced with a friend and sibling who don't seem particularly worried about the destroyed apartment, Daisy demands, "What is this, an indifference convention?" Then, she calls Tony to pick up the culprit -- his silent, debauched, vomiting little sister, Eura -- and cashes in the favors the rest of her friends owe her, demanding that they stay until the whole place is clean.
The next time Daisy and Abbud try to get it on in her apartment, they're foiled again. Her dad, who's made his peace with Farley, is unexpectedly home. He's kept the piano covered since his wife left, but tonight he opened it, having decided to sell it so he can make rent. Instead of turning her sister in, Daisy tells him she's the one who threw the party and takes responsibility for the broken instrument. She'll have to give up her music camp money to pay for it.
Daisy's father leaves in a huff, and she and Abbud finally get to have sex. Although this is supposed to be a salacious show, we don't see much of the hook-up itself. Instead, we get Daisy and Abbud in bed afterward, reassuring themselves and each other that they were only having some harmless fun. But their new, awkward attachment to each other is palpable, and it says something about the way the kids on this show -- and maybe teenagers in general -- think. They want so badly to be hard and detached about sex that they don't anticipate the messy emotions that come with it.
Daisy does show up to audition for the summer program, but some combination of her nerves and guilt get the best of her. Faced with the judges, she chokes.
This week's episode ends with a mature decision, not a sexy cliffhanger. Responsible Daisy buys her father the nicest piano she can afford with the money she might have spent on her music career. They play together, she on the trumpet and he on the piano. And, for what must be the first time in months or years, he smiles.
Camille Cresencia-Mills carried the entire episode as Daisy -- an estimable feat, considering that Ron Mustafaa (Abbud) seems to be one of the show's weaker cast members, and the actors who played Farley and Daisy's dad weren't particularly strong. I, for one, am hoping we see more of her in the weeks to come.
Your weekly top five parental panic moments:
5. Teenage Daisy works at a restaurant that is basically Hooters.
4. Abbud and Daisy have not-so-meaningless sex.
3. Daisy sneaks out -- to play jazz.
2. Abbud and Daisy plan to have meaningless sex.
1. Daisy's younger sister throws a wild, destructive party.
Photo: Camille Cresencia-Mills as Daisy. Credit: Jason Nocito