I was overjoyed when my sister brought home an illegally downloaded copy of the fourth season of Skins the other day. For one, I discovered the Internet is home to more than just porn. Imagine that, a place where porn and teenagers can coexist (and occasionally combine). For two, I am an extreme fan of the show. For three, Skins isn’t really mainstream, and as this season wasn’t available in Australia on either the television or DVD, I felt like an ultra-hipster watching it.
In entertainment media today, what actually constitutes mainstream? With the Internet and all that accompanies it (and the supposed ‘Digital Age’ that is upon us), how can we classify anything as mainstream when our tastes have become so fragmented? And is it a numerical kind of tipping point, or is it a qualitative measure?
I think the mainstream, as I would apply it, is possibly defined by a single aspect: it contains overt advertising. If you listen to a radio station with multiple advertising jingles between songs, it is a mainstream station. Whatever music they play on that station is now in the middle of pop culture’s road. I heard ‘Little Secrets’ by Passion Pit on Sea FM the other day; to me, that song is now mainstream, and (perhaps unfairly) has lost some of its appeal to me. You can pretty much dump any movie showing in Tuggerah’s Greater Union into the mainstream category, as this is the entire point of the business- they’re not trying to be culturally relevant, they just want to make as much money as they can. Any television show that you watch on free-to-air TV is instantly mainstream, with a few minor exceptions: if it is on between the hours of 10:30 p.m. and 4 a.m., if it is on SBS (at any time), or if it is ABC3’s Prank Patrol. That show is awesome.
INTERRUPTION TO THE INTERPOLATION
Why do I always refer to Punk’d in real life? I rarely watched episodes of it, it finished long before Ashton Kutcher pursued a career as a Twat, and it was a crappily done show. Yet I still say it whenever I perform a practical joke on anyone, or even when something unusual (but humourous to me) happens to someone else. Example:
Mum: Argh, I just stepped in the chickens’ poo.
Brendan: Ha! You got Punk’d.
It doesn’t even make any sense. I am a strange guy.
END OF INTERPOLATION
So, you know, I got to watching it, and within three days, I had finished it. All eight episodes lasted only about 45 minutes each, though in typical Skins fashion, they felt more like movies, albeit pointlessly long ones. The ability of the Skins creators to simultaneously make it seem like everything and nothing happens in each and every episode is a rare and infuriating skill.
But after four seasons, it seems the show’s writers have stumbled into a conundrum. For me, the attraction of Skins was in both its subtlety and its ability to relate to its audience. Of course, it was soon apparent that the Skins’ writing team were less like Bruce Springsteen and more like Rivers Cuomo in this regard, telling stories that paralleled our own experiences only by circumstantial chance, and not through deliberation. I mean, how many of us can honestly say we’ve been kicked out of our house by a squatter in the bathtub?
Nevertheless, whilst the stories didn’t always manifest our troubles, the characters pretty much did. Generally, our favourite television characters are ones we perceive to be most like us, though in a glorified way. With Skins, it was near impossible to have a favourite, mostly because so many of them inhabited multiple personality traits we have. And in the first two seasons, they also had genuinely fake chemistry, for lack of motivation to find a better, less clichéd, word. Essentially, that meant that the characters had reason to hang around together; it was conceivable that they would be friends.
Season three stretched these parameters a bit too much for my liking. I failed to ever deduce why someone like Freddie would hang around with Naomi unless he wanted to become even more depressed and moody. As a result, the storylines and their accompanying issues were much more overt, forcing the writers to make things unnecessarily batshit complicated, illuminated perfectly by the whole Effie-Cook-Freddie-JJ love rectangle. There were glimpses of the previous two seasons’ brilliance, though: Thomas’ episode was unlike anything I’ve ever seen, and in a good way. Cook was the reincarnate of Chris, albeit taken to the extreme in nearly everything he did. Nothing felt tokenistic or stereotyped, despite the possibility of having a black guy, a lesbian couple and a gangster being interpreted as such. The main detraction from the season was how it sometimes seemed to do things just because it could. The sex and drug adventures presented quite often don’t add anything to the storylines, and I suspect that a good portion of it was added afterwards, as filler needed to pad out a shorter episode.
Understandably, I was disappointed when it turned out Season 4 had more than its fair share of pointless debauchery. The storylines at times felt like rehashes of previous episodes, insinuating that there is actually a limit to teenage exploration. Some episodes were great, some were average, and some should never have existed (especially the JJ-centric one). Characters were often in focus for one episode, and then slipped out of the conscious entirely for pretty much the rest of the season. The parents are as absent as usual- I think about three of the characters still live with theirs, showing a fairly liberal use of dramatic license on the writers’ behalf. Relationships are made, destroyed, made again, destroyed stupidly for a second time, placed in purgatory, and generally act as an attempt to get the viewer’s mindset to be as addled as a habitual drug users’. The characters make irrational, unfathomable choices, show heartbreaking integrity, and generally act in a bizarre, exaggerated teenager-ish way. Basically, it’s Skins as you know and love it.
But is it worth the five hours of your life you have to spare to watch it? Well, if you need me to answer that for you, then you’re an idiot, because it’s still clearly one of the better shows on (or off) television. But I wouldn’t have your hopes set, say, at the same level as Seasons 1 and 2. Instead of a return to form, this feels more like a show that is in irreversible decline. One of the main ways I judge the effectiveness of the arts (music, movies, television, writing etc.) is how it affects my outlook on life, either temporarily or permanently. Actually, that should probably be if it affects my outlook on life. After the first two seasons of Skins, I went around for a couple of weeks at least thinking I was invincible, that partying is my number one goal in life, and growing old is the worst thing that could happen to me. As time passed, these beliefs waned considerably (except the growing old part), but I was left with an imprint of what they had meant to me. Contrastingly, these last two seasons of Skins have had about as much psychological impact on me as Two and a Half Men does. And I don’t even watch that show.