OPINION: Skins was no use without Tony, Sid and Anwar

Skins returns to E4 for one final series this summer, and with Effie’s Skins Fire airing tonight (catch it on E4 from 10pm), there’s probably no better time to take a long hard look back at the series that started so beautifully, before heading on a downward spiral that rivaled even Ms Stonem’s own descent into darkness.

I was a wide-eyed 17-year-old when Skins first hit E4 back in 2007, and it wasn’t until my mother recommended the show (I know, right?) that I started watching. Needless to say, I was almost instantly hooked: There was something oddly appealing about a bunch of kids my age going a little bit off the rails, engaging in cartoonish antics that you knew deep down, were ever so slightly exaggerated.

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While most of the country was swooning over an as-yet relatively unknown Nicholas Hoult (the kid with the eyebrows from About A Boy as we knew him then), I was developing one of those pitiful crushes on Mike Bailey (Sid), and growing rather fond of the rather amusing Dev Patel (Anwar). To be honest, almost every character started to grow on me, and as the weeks rolled by, I kept coming back for more. The show quickly became the talk of the classroom, and there wasn’t a Friday morning that you didn’t hear “Did you watch Skins last night?” as you wandered down the corridor.

As if having a likeable main cast wasn’t enough, there was a fantastic supporting cast to boot. Peter Capaldi stole the show as Sid’s rather angry father, Harry Enfield was an inspired choice for Tony and Effie’s dad, and Morwenna Banks rounded off the Stonem family unit rather wonderfully. Then there was Men Behaving Badly’s Neil Morrissey as Cassie’s dad, Danny Dyer as Michelle’s ma’s toyboy (we still guffaw at that one), and the wonderful Nina Wadia as Anwar’s mammy.

From Angie, to Mad Twatter, Posh Kenneth (the DJ) to Effie’s rather bad influence Spencer (played by the almost other-worldly Tom Payne) the new, fresh and funny waves just kept rolling in: By the time Bill Bailey and Fiona Allen (Smack the Pony) joined the cast as Maxxie’s mum and dad in Series 2, we were already convinced that we were on to a winner. And then Tony’s odd dream sequences started…

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Skins Season 2 was decent, no doubt, but it just lacked the punch of its predecessor. You could say that’s hardly surprising, because any new show is going to have the biggest impact the first time around, but you just got the feeling that the series somehow lost its sense of direction. Between Tony’s strange visions, Anwar’s fling with Sketch, and yer wan’s crazy plot to poison Michelle, things just got a wee bit too farcical: Jal and Chris were the only ones keeping the show on the ground. When E4 revealed that the cast would not be back for a third round we were slightly disappointed but not too surprised, and that’s probably why we all groaned when they announced they’d keep the show going with a whole new batch of teenage tearaways.

If there’s one thing that rarely works, it’s replacing a whole cast of established characters with new ones (within 12 months) and attempting to make you fall in love with them instead: Just look at Saved By The Bell: The New Class if you don’t believe me. Sure, Effie was still around but despite strong efforts from the likes of Luke Pasqualiano and Jack O’Connell, Kaya Scodelario seemed lost without her former co-stars. Don’t even get me started on that 3rd Generation, or I’ll really sound like I’ve got a grumpy old head on young shoulders. Then there was that whole American re-make debacle too: MTV’s Skins only lasted a few episodes in the end.

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At that stage Skins became something rather different: Interesting storylines gave way to more drugs, sex and alcohol, and the initial magic faded. Maybe it’s a generational thing (if you’ll pardon the pun): I was 17/18 for Seasons 1 and 2, so it is possible that I just grew out Skins by the time the newer generations took over. And yet, I still find myself flicking back to the old Skins box set from time to time, and enjoying those first two series as much as I did when I was 17-years-old, so I can’t help but wonder if a truly great series was ultimately watered down for the sake of keeping the brand going?

I’ll probably tune in to catch Skins Fire tonight, and maybe even watch Cassie’s Skins Pure for the sake of seeing our own Charlene McKenna (She’s making a guest appearance), but I know that somewhere in the back of my mind, a little voice will still be saying “it’s just not the same without Tony, Sid and Anwar”.

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