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“This Is My Mum, Sandwiched Between Dickens and Nabokov”

By Caspar Salmon | TV | February 3, 2011 |

By Caspar Salmon | TV | February 3, 2011 |

OK listen up y’all, I was really busy this week so I only watched two shows, and completely at the last minute, at that. These are the shows!


3skinsa.pngSo, “Skins” started its fifth series this week, and if you’ve never seen “Skins” before I’m guessing you’re over 19 years old. For that particular category of losers — and, seriously, how pathetic are you? — I’ll lay out the following summary: it’s about kids in Bristol, and the shit they get up to. I’ve not watched every single episode of it, but when the series started about four years ago or so, I watched it quite frequently and found it funny, endearing, moving, sometimes wise, and full of spunk and heart. Since the second season concluded, packing off Nicholas Hoult and Dev Patel et al off to university at the end of two action-packed years of heartbreak and shenanigans, I’ve occasionally caught an episode or two and found it still OK and generally-good-for-the-kids. This new season aims to carry on that winning streak, introducing a new, fresh-faced cast of characters. I found it not too bad, and so did many reviewers, although they and I are not the target audience.

Here’s my 15 year-old cousin Milo’s Facebook status update from last week: “SKINS is fucking dead. An old man scooter. Please.”

Indeed, this alludes to a rather ropey opening to the episode, in which new schoolgirl Franky, an ex-victim of bullying, arrives crashing in at school on an elderly person’s scooter, having attempted to escape some bullies in the street. It was all rather laboured, having sadly descended into grand-guignol farce after a sharp few opening shots in which Franky wakes up and pulls on some snappy androgynous rags. It all looked rather promising, particularly since Dakota Blue Richards, playing Franky, seemed a good candidate to emulate Nicolas Hoult’s breakthrough performance in the first seasons — having been, like him, an engaging child presence in a not very good Chris Weitz film (he in About A Boy, (hey! I’ve cut people for less — DR) she in The Golden Compass) who has since turned into an attractive, pouty, charismatic little pretty thing. But this episode suffered from a real unevenness of tone and too many montage sequences set to music, where previous seasons jumped straight into the deep stuff. Richards is very good and compelling, but wasn’t given enough to do, and the story of her overcoming bullying felt rather phoned in, particularly since she’s painted as a smart, tough cookie who, you feel, would give as good as she got. But there were some good bits: some excellent lines, particularly from a very caustic English teacher in a scene-stealing performance, and there was something of the early “Skins“‘s tenderness in the painting of Franky’s home life.

The other cast mates seemed able enough, although — because “Skins” always concentrates on one character at a time, which is actually mostly a forte — a lot of characters were underdeveloped in this first instalment. I felt that especially keenly with Franky’s potential love interest, who appeared out of nowhere and mumbled some crap about her looking hot. You’ll need to actually give him a personality at some point, guys, because he’s not going to get by on that pretty face for long, even with a 15-year-old audience hungry for a bit of post-Efron smoulder.

Nevertheless — and though none of us should really be watching it at all, being such hideously aged gits — there seems to be some promise, and once the cast begins to gel some more and gets its talons into some meatier storylines, I think it will morph anew into the shambling, spotty, pleasant beast it once was.

Big Fat Gypsy Weddings: Desperate Housewives

Gypsy.jpgThat’s it, I’m not watching any more of this tripe. I got asked to review more 1539 (the substitute/shorthand I am continuing to use instead of the un-PC term ‘gypsy’) Weddings programmes in the comments section last week, and when I was at a conference with work colleagues this week, one of my co-workers whispered to me during the obligatory (and utterly hellish) post-work karaoke session, “Fucking hell, I can’t believe I’m missing [1539] Weddings for this.”

So I had good reason to believe that there would be some good stuff served up in this week’s dose. And I really thought that it would have moved beyond the topics covered in the last episode about 1539s that I wrote about — but if anything, this week’s show continued to indulge in more of the pointing-and-laughing freak show blather that threatened to derail the opening episode of this season supposedly devoted to taking an in-depth look at a hidden community in all its practices. This episode — beyond mining in a little more depth the terrain covered in the first episode about women’s subjugation to men in the 1539 community — essentially ploughed much the same furrow and held no real insights. Once again we met a fresh-faced, ingenue young 1539 woman (Lizzie, 18, on the verge of marrying) whose existence is reduced to cleaning and looking after kids. Once more, we saw how the brutal practice of “grabbing” continues amongst 1539s as a courting ceremony, and how it speaks of a deep-seated sexism that sees women as mere sexual companions and housekeepers.

But the problem is that the programme has not got enough access to more interesting, less typical members of the community. Where are the outcasts, the ones who don’t fit in? What are further social problems hindering integration in modern British society? Are there 1539s who have successfully abandoned this lifestyle? Answer came there none. It was a little dispiriting, and really made me feel as if the programme were essentially posturing as a social investigation while trying to attract judgment-tourists willing to peer at the oddball little people in the frou-frou dresses. Not cool, guys — not cool.

Caspar Salmon definitely didn’t sing “Hero” by Mariah Carey at the karaoke this week in front of all his colleagues.

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.