With its countless party scenes, elaborate makeup looks and heavy drug focus, HBO’s award-winning TV series Euphoria has faced comparisons to UK drama Skins ever since it burst into the scene with glitter and neon in 2019.
On the surface level, it’s easy to see why people would compare the two — both shows centre on a group of teens whose lives were undoubtedly a lot more interesting and dramatic than our own friend groups at school. But the truth is, Euphoria and Skins are a lot more nuanced than this comparison gives them credit for, and aren’t as similar as they might appear. So let’s break it down.
Simultaneous to the return of Euphoria on-screen, we’ve seen the rise of ‘Euphoria High’ memes across TikTok, which satirises how these 16-year-old students are showing up to classes doused in glitter, fishnets, and six-inch heels. While these kinds of outfits certainly added a kind of aesthetic to the show, everyone knows that in the real world, in both America and the UK, most school dress codes are too oppressive to even let women show their shoulders.
This is what makes the memes about ‘Euphoria High’ so funny: it’s blindingly obvious that the realism of the school environment has taken a backseat in order for the show to achieve its now-iconic aesthetic. If you think about it, a lot of things about Euphoria High don’t make sense — the students are able to leave mid-class without so much as a whisper from their teachers, and every ex-theatre kid knows that there’s no way an actual school would be willing to give Lexi the amount of budget she needed to make her play happen.
@mariiachourio No bookbag no nothing #euphoria #euphoriaseason2 #maddyperez #rue #fyp ♬ And why arent you in uniform – No context Spongebob
That being said, the aesthetic of Skins is similar. ‘Second generation’ characters like Effy especially are single-handedly responsible not only for a generation of glittery, smokey eyes but also for that awful shorts-over-tights trend in noughties England that had teens and young adults in a chokehold.
The difference is, this was only possible in Skins because they did away with the high school setting completely. After all, an E4 anthology series centring on the characters having their skirts measured with rulers and being sent to isolation whenever they wore eyeliner wouldn’t be particularly exciting viewing.
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The way Skins writers were able to get around this was by setting the show in a post-16, further education college: a strange bridge between high school and university in the UK where students could largely wear what they want and have a lot more freedom, but still have that loose structure of an academic backdrop for the purposes of relatability with a young audience. Anyone who went to college in the UK knows that the approach by lecturers is largely hands-off compared to Year 11 or sixth forms, meaning that the characters of Skins were able to skirt along the boundaries in a more realistic way.
Although Skins had a few more college-centric storylines than Euphoria, such as a teacher-student romance and a character facing expulsion, its setting largely served the same purpose for its characters as high school did for Euphoria. It’s a way of explaining how all these characters know each other before being able to go into the more juicy stuff off-screen at house parties, clubs and vacations.
Both Skins and Euphoria pride themselves on having more ‘gritty’ portrayals of teenage life — and while both of them are skilful at showing the darker and harsher realities of important issues like mental health and addiction, Skins is probably slightly better at showing ‘grit’ not just in terms of hard truths, but that day-to-day mundanity of when things are just a little bit… shit.
While the Euphoria characters are way too cool and edgy to ever look a little bit stupid, the writers of Skins are unafraid to make a jibe or two at the characters’ expense: whether that be Sid having an embarrassingly-named porn magazine or Anwar’s whole family coming into his room while he’s naked and screaming in unison.
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Sometimes, the characters in Euphoria tend to take themselves too seriously, and there isn’t a moment of comic relief. Skins, on the other hand, isn’t afraid to let its audience have a laugh or two at the characters’ expense. The group isn’t just a bunch of quintessential cool-kids, there’s a few losers and oddballs too, which makes for a more well-rounded and relatable cast.
For example, Euphoria’s drug-dealer is the angelic, deeply attractive, high-school age Fez. Skins’ resident drug dealer is ‘Mad Twatter’ — a middle-aged man with a stupid moustache who tries to intimidate the teens by smashing one of their clarinets.
There is, of course, some overlap in terms of the themes Euphoria deals with — both shows do a good job of normalising queerness and hitting back against discrimination in the process, but they also have room for improvement. Although Maxxie in Skins is a good representation for the gay community in terms of his unapologetic nature — with a major storyline for the character centering on how his best friend Anwar reconciles his Muslim faith with Maxxie’s sexuality — he also conforms to a lot of stereotypes and isn’t developed much beyond other people’s perceptions of him.
Emily’s journey coming out as a lesbian in the third season of Skins rights these wrongs by being a lot more nuanced, tender, and complicated, but it is undoubtedly very different to the coming-out experience for teens now almost a decade later, where Rue dating Jules is barely even a plot point because of how fluid sexuality is treated in Euphoria.
This is what makes Nate’s storyline as a possibly-closeted gay and bisexual man all the more confusing. While he definitely has some unique trauma due to his father, hasn’t society surpassed the problematic narrative of aggressive men being aggressive to hide secret homoerotic tendencies?
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Skins also shows its age by not having any trans representation. The closest they come is with Franky’s androgynous fashion sense in season 5 of Skins, which is largely abandoned by season 6. Jules’ journey transitioning, by contrast, is a very refreshing and of-the-moment storyline in Euphoria, where discussions around trans identity have become a lot more mainstream. Perhaps, if Skins were made today, it would have more prominent transgender representation: but both shows make a good effort of trying to capture LGBTQ+ issues as they were in the cultural zeitgeist at that time.
It’s also strange that Euphoria is getting all this flack over ‘glamorising drugs’ when the whole purpose of Rue’s storyline is to show the dark consequences and reality of addiction. If anything is responsible for glamorising drugs, it’s Skins. The series portrays the same glittery highs of drug use as Euphoria does, but doesn’t counteract it with any of the lows, which gives young people a more skewed, idealised perspective of drug use than Euphoria ever has.
The comparison between Skins and Euphoria is pointless because there are also major structural differences between the two shows. While both shows share their love for character-centric episodes to give decent, in-depth character studies, Euphoria intercuts these with voiceovers and flashback sequences. Skins also veers into anthology series territory by bringing in different generations every two years while Euphoria, by the looks of it, is committed to following the same group in their third season next year.
Euphoria also doesn’t share Skins’ tendency to kill off a member of their cast for no other reason apart from tradition, and their villains, like softly spoken trafficker Laurie are a bit more realistic than unhinged Dr Evil who hypnotises Effy into forgetting everything before bumping off her boyfriend because he fancies her.
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At the end of the day, both shows have their flaws, and neither of them are perfectly-realistic portrayals of teenage life. But do we really want that? It wouldn’t exactly make good entertainment. All we can really do is be grateful that neither are as unhinged as Riverdale.
Both seasons of Euphoria are available to watch on streaming service HBO Max, and if you’re in the UK, Euphoria is available to stream on NOW (with Entertainment Membership). Some seasons of Skins is available to buy or rent on Amazon Prime Video and Apple TV Plus.