Skins: Series 7
This review contains spoilers for previous series of Skins..
Created by father and son team Bryan Elsley and Jamie Brittain, the first series of Skins premiered on E4 in January 2007, detailing the lives of a group of sixth-formers at Roundview College, set and made in Bristol. It proved to be a groundbreaking show, controversial in the topics it covered and its depiction of a lifestyle in which sex and recreational drug use figured heavily – and often using language many more conservative types certainly would not approve of. Of many startling moments, the one that stuck out for me is a jawdropping one in Effy's episode in the first series. If you've seen it, you will know what I mean. Apart from Elsley (born 1961) the majority of the writers have been themselves in their late teens or early twenties.
However, British sixth form lasts two years, so when it came to series three, the show took the bold move of replacing almost the entire cast. The main carry-over (of two) into this second generation was Effy (Kaya Scodelario) who had appeared in the first two series as the Year Ten and then Year Eleven younger sister of Tony (Nicholas Hoult). Then, with the fifth and sixth series we had an entire new cast again, with just College staff continuing from earlier. The show has helped to establish actors like Scodelario, Dev Patel, Jack O'Connell and others while marking a breakthrough into adult roles for former child actors like Hoult and Dakota Blue Richards. In adult roles, as parents and school staff and others, appeared Harry Enfield, Peter Capaldi, Josie Long, Chris Addison and others. However, diminishing returns set in with the third generation, although the sixth series was an improvement on the very disappointing fifth. In addition, the explicitness of earlier series has been toned down a little, with the sixth series being the only one after the first three to be rated 18 by the BBFC, the others being squarely at the top end of a 15 certificate.
So, with the seventh and final series, something different again. In publishing, young adult fiction has been a big-selling category. In the last couple of years, a new category has been much talked about: new adult, an age range up from young adult (which tends to end at high-school/sixth-form age, that is eighteen), with characters of University/College age, into their early twenties. While Skins was previously young-adult, though definitely of the older, edgier kind due to subject matter and language, this seventh series is new-adult. In three two-part stories, it centres on three characters from earlier series (first and second generation only, not the third), plus two others from the second generation in supporting roles. The stories have the subtitles Rise (with Effy as the protagonist, supporting roles for Naomi and Emily, written by Jess Brittain), Pure (Cassie, written by Bryan Elsley) and Rise (Cook, written by Jamie Brittain). The results are something of a mixed bag.
Rise (48:50, 48:30)
London. Effy works as a receptionist for a hedge fund company, and shares a flat with Naomi (Lily Loveless), who is trying to become a stand-up comedian. Effy impresses her managers and becomes involved with her boss Jake (Kayvan Novak). With the help of lovelorn Dominic (Craig Roberts) she soon becomes involved in some shady financial dealings. Meanwhile, Lily hears some very bad news...
As all six previous series were set mainly in Bristol, with occasional excursions elsewhere, setting two of the final series's stories in London gives the show some freshness. And there's no doubt that Effy had been one of the more compelling characters of both the first and second generations, if certainly enigmatic (and selectively mute in the first series) and often overtly an anti-heroine. Yet Series 7 Effy does feel a little rootless. Other than Naomi and Emily, there's no link back to previous stories, such as any reference to the mental health issues she suffered in series four, which indirectly led to the death of her friend and love-triangle participant Freddie, murdered by her psychiatrist. (More about that when we get to Cook's story.) Availability of actors may have been an issue, but there's no mention of, let alone any appearance by, her older brother Tony or even her parents. As for Naomi and Emily, whose love story was for many a highlight of the third and fourth series, you may well feel shortchanged with quite a downbeat resolution to this story. Emily doesn't appear until the second episode, being on an internship in New York until then. It's hard to sympathise with Effy as she goes to the bad, and as a result Fire is more than a little disappointing.
Pure (47:31, 47:43)
We last left Cassie (Hannah Murray) in New York on a cliffhanger, almost but not quite reuniting with Sid (Mike Bailey). Now she is in London at age (presumably) twenty-three, working in a diner and sharing a house with Maddie (Charlene McKenna), an actress with an active sex life. Cassie drifts into a relationship with co-worker Yaniv (Daniel Ben Zenou) and is disturbed to find photos of her online.
This storyline is a little queasy in that Cassie's stalker Jakob (Olly Alexander) turns out not to be threatening but (awww) lonely and misunderstood. But if Effy seemed unrooted, Cassie is quite the opposite. Some dialogue resolves the five-year cliffhanger – she spent time travelling around the States with a boyfriend (presumably Sid, though not named) before they went their separate ways – and there is a reference back to the anorexia that Cassie had back in the first series. There is a sense that this is someone who has grown and developed since we last saw her: gone are the spacey expressions and “Wows” of old.
The meat of Pure isn't a dubious romance between Cassie and Jakob but the relationship between Cassie and her father Marcus (Neil Morrissey), who lives in Wales alone with his six-year-old son Reuben. While many will no doubt miss the sex-and-drugs-and-partying hedonistic side to Skins - and of the three stories in this season this is certainly the most quiet and character-led so sensibly placed in the middle – what has taken its place is still a satisfying revisit to one of the show's most engaging characters.
Rise (47.36, 46:30)
After two female-centric stories, a male one, and a shift from London to Manchester and into much darker noir territory. Cook (Jack O'Connell) makes a living as a drug runner for Louie (Liam Boyle) and has a girlfriend, Emma (Esther Smith). One day, Louie asks Cook to act as “Driving Miss Daisy” to Louie's girlfriend Charlie (Hannah Britland). Then Cook finds out that Charlie is being unfaithful to Louie with his henchman Jason (Lucien Laviscourt). This gets back to Louie, with disastrous results.
Cook was never the most likeable character of the second generation – often quite dislikeable in fact. But if he was a bastard, he was certainly a charismatic one, thanks no end to Jack O'Connell, who has some claim to be the foremost acting discovery of the show. We last saw him in the very last scene of series four, confronting Effy's psychiatrist and Freddie's murderer John Foster. Cook's voiceover (very noir, that) at the beginning of Rise states that he killed a man, which presumably indicates how that encounter resolved itself, though it could also refer to an event in this story. Most of the second episode deals with Cook, Emma and Charlie on the run through a wintry countryside, with some bystanders (Emma and her parents) caught up in the crossfire, leading up to a final confrontation in the snow. Admittedly there are some plot holes (where's Louie's enforcer Rob in the final scene?) but this is a dark and generally satisfying end to Skins.
The seventh series of Skins is released by Channel 4 DVD on two discs, a DVD-9 containing Fire and Pure, with Rise on a DVD-5. The series is also available as part of a boxset of all seven series. The affliate links above refer to the single-series edition; for those for the boxset, go here.
Skins was shot in HD from the very beginning, and the episodes on this disc are in the correct ratio of 1.78:1, anamorphically enhanced. Given that the episodes are digital from origin to final DVD, you would expect these PAL DVDs to look just as they do on SD broadcast, and that is the case: sharp, colourful, and (especially in Rise Part 2) coping with some very darkly-lit scenes. The episodes include the captions which on broadcast lead us into and out of the commercial breaks.
The soundtrack is Dolby Surround (2.0). As with many TV shows, it's not the most adventurous of sound mixes, using the surrounds mostly for music and the occasional directional sound effect. But it's clean and dialogue, music and sound effects are well balanced, and it does the job it should. English subtitles are available for the hard-of-hearing.
There are no extras.