A friend who grew up in Bristol once told me he never watched Skins because, as a teenager, he’d already lived it. The evolving story of a ragamuffin teen crew bopping around a middle-class English city, attending raves more frequently than college (British high school), and unraveling the mysteries of sex, drugs, and love, Skins always rang true because its writing staff employed actual teenagers for its duration.
Skins first premiered on E4 in 2007 and, watching it back then as an American adult, it imbued me with a fierce and enduring case of FOMO, as it captured the essence of being a teenager in a country with markedly fewer sexual hang-ups and, perhaps as a result, markedly better parties. It focused on a range of school-age archetypes—the popular kids, the weirdos, the nerds and the wildlings—without stereotyping any of them, imbuing them with a tenderness and vulnerability that most other teen shows I’d ever seen rarely did. (By contrast, my other favorite show at the time was Gossip Girl, wonderful but soapy and melodramatic in a fashion that Skins broached only once or twice.)
For its six seasons, the cast was comprised by a mix of professional young actors and real-life teenagers plucked from open auditions, and in retrospect it functioned as a type of incubator for today’s adult stars, some of them now global celebrities. From Series 1, for instance, we got Dev Patel, current Oscar nominee for Lion, back then playing Skins’s sheepish and tiny Anwar Kharrel, a wayward Muslim who must reconcile his faith with his liberal actions (drugs and sex, always) and his views on his best friend’s homosexuality.
As the clip above illustrates, that first couple seasons of Skins dealt with what a teen like Anwar might go through in both dealing with stereotypes and adjusting to cultural mores, but the show’s subtle, sometimes madcap genius was that it never trivialized the essential, very weird experience of adolescence. Sure, occasionally the show’s story arcs got a little dramatic—someone died every season in increasingly bizarre fashion—but underneath it did its best at portraying teenhood’s magic, angst, and inimitability, all with a phenomenally forward-thinking soundtrack (by the producer Segal) and costume design.
The show shifted casts three times—one cast per two seasons, to follow their last two years of school before university—and culminated in Skins Redux, a 2013 miniseries that served as an epilogue to three of its most beloved characters. These included Effy Stonem (Kaya Scodelario, who’s currently set to star in the latest Pirates of the Caribbean alongside Johnny Depp), who evolved from a quiet, world-weary libertine to a seductive stock broker; Cassie Ainsworth (Hannah Murray, now Gilly on Game of Thrones), who’s finally finding herself after a sorrowful teenhood full of eating disorders and abandonment; and James Cook (Jack O’Connell, whose astronomical rise most recently saw him starring in Money Monster, alongside George Clooney and Julia Roberts), whose delinquent teen ways have haunted him into adulthood.
Watching Skins Redux after spending nearly a decade following Skins religiously was a decent amount of closure, but not enough, perhaps because the show was written with an intimacy that engendered devotion. (There was, of course, a short-lived attempt to translate the show to a U.S. audience via MTV, but it didn’t work and we won’t speak of it now.) Perhaps that is why following the careers of old Skins actors is a bit of a career unto itself; most of them have gone on to better and more beautiful things, and their growth feels good. Here’s where the rest of them are.
Nicholas Hoult was perfectly casted as a swaggering mega-babe who mellowed out after some car accident-related brain damage (obviously). He went on to star as the Beast in X-Men (where he met his ex-gf, Jennifer Lawrence) and the hot zombie in Warm Bodies, among other roles. This year he’ll play both J.D. Salinger in Rebel in the Rye and Nikola Tesla in The Current War, also with Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Shannon.
As a druggie with neglectful parents, Joe Dempsie had a hard-edged vulnerability, and much to the credit of the costumer, both he and Sid always looked like super stinky boys. Dempsie is currently also on Game of Thrones, as Gendry, who we last saw floating away on a canoe.
Coolboy/rapper Posh Kenneth held a relatively minor role in Skins, but actor Daniel Kaluuya only saw his career ascend. Aside from starring in one of the best-ever episodes of Black Mirror and landing roles in Kick-Ass 2, Sicario, he’s also the main star in Jordan Peele’s much-anticipated white-liberal horror film Get Out and will assume the role of W’Kabi in Marvel’s Ryan-Coogler-directed Black Panther. Um, hell yeah Posh Kenneth?!
First Generation, more: Sid Jenkins (played by Mike Bailey; where is he?!); Michelle Richardson (April Pearson, most recently seen last year in the short film Cuttings); Jal Fazer (Larissa Wilson, last seen on British TV show The Suspects in 2014); Maxxie Oliver (Mitch Hewer, seen in 2015's Nightlight); Sketch (Aimee Ffion-Edwards, who’s hamming it up over on Peaky Blinders).
For many Skins fans, it’s the First Generation or nothing; even with Effy Stonem’s graduation from Tony’s miscreant baby sis to the breakout star of third and fourth seasons, there was something innocent and unaffected about those first two years, an experiment that had not yet been reflected back upon itself. But the Second and Third Generations had their merits and arguably produced even bigger stars. This week, we’ll be examining the impact of the series and waxing nostalgic about the British teen show we’ll never forget. Tomorrow, show evolves, and shit gets crazy: Generation Two.