Skins: Series 5, Episode 1

Skins returned last night, with the third generation of sixth formers starting their two years at Bristol’s Roundview College. As ever, it was stylish, dynamic and looked fantastic, featuring a promising set of new characters and a great young cast. In fact, I liked everything pretty much everything about the first episode except for its clichéd and predictable plot, which left me longing for the excitement of its first series and the newer shows E4 has commissioned in its wake.

The episode focused on Franky, an androgynous loner with a talent for stop-motion animation played by Dakota Blue Richards, child star of The Golden Compass, with a superb balance of fragility and anger. She’s just arrived from Oxford, with her two dads (including the latest of many comics to turn up as a parent in the show, a great bearded John Sessions). Arriving at college on a mobility scooter after being chased by some bullies, we discover that the academic year is already in full swing, with both the audience and Franky as outsiders who have to learn who everybody is.

So we met bully Mini, a sort of cross between Regina George and the Wurzels, along with her cohorts Liv and the incredibly sweet Grace, plus her rugby playing boyfriend Nicky. At the other end of the college social scale were Alo and Richard, a van-dwelling, skinny-dipping Beavis and long-haired Butthead, who are by far the most interesting and different additions to Skins. There was also the mysterious Matty, who appeared from nowhere tell Franky that she is beautiful while simultaneously troubling the gussets of several thousand teenage viewers.

A bit too much of this episode felt like Mean Girls-by-numbers, too many scenes we’ve already seen before, despite the fresh spin that was occasionally put on them. There was the bitchy popular girl who ruling the roost with a boyfriend on the sports team, her followers (including the ditsy, loveable one) who secretly dislike her, the moment where embarrassing photos of our heroine were posted up all over the school walls and the climactic party where the queen bee finally gets her comeuppance. Things looked to be taking a darker and much more dramatic turn when Franky took a gun along to the party as some kind of security blanket, but she threw it away before Grace, Alo and Richard saved the day and took her to a swimming pool.

That’s not to say I didn’t find many things to enjoy about the episode, with the mix of characters already showing signs that this series as a whole could be much better than the last two. Co-creator Jamie Brittain was a big fan of Lost and the way each episode was centred around a different character, revealing secrets and showing sides to them that we didn’t know before. I’m looking forward to finding out more about this new bunch and seeing what the home lives of the likes of Mini and Grace are like, as well as seeing what comedians play their parents.

Skins’ first series, currently causing a huge furore in the US with the MTV remake, casts a long shadow over what has followed. The second generation of series three and four could never live up to what came before them, and again there were times here where I wished for the days of Tony, Sid, Cassie and Maxxie. And then there are the towering successes E4 might not have commissioned had it not been for the success of Skins – The Inbetweeners and Misfits. This fifth series has a lot to live up to. While it didn’t get off to the most satisfying of starts, there are plenty of signs that there is better to come.

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