Skins has changed the face of television. It helped launch the e4 network in the UK and created a whole new niche in television shows. The show is gritty, sexy, but most importantly, honest about the lives of teenagers. It’s kind of like Saved by the Bell if it followed the kids that smoked weed and fooled around behind the bleachers.
Skins begins with a group of friends lead by Tony Stonem (Nicholas Hoult). It follows their morphing relationships, party habits, and teenage hi-jinks. The show cast a realistic circle of friends including Anwar (Dev Patel), a Muslim horndog, and Matty (Mitch Hewer), a gay dancer who are best buddies. Every few seasons, the group would swap out with a new crew of teenagers and a new set of problems.
The show took an unapologetic view of teenage life. No subject was off limits. These kids do drugs, have sex, and have troubled relationships with their parents. The show dealt with anorexia in the form of Cassie (Hannah Murray), a lonely girl with self esteem issues. In the fifth season, the show introduced Franky Fitzgerald (Dakota Blue Richards), a girl who subverted gender by dressing like a boy.
The show also has great plotlines. It doesn’t pander to the popular tropes of teen soaps like Gossip Girl or sitcoms with bad porn acting. Instead, the series presents characters as complex as real people who makes choices you might never expect. MTV tried to replicate the success with an American version of Skins but it lacked the emotional and social complexity and ends up feeling more self-indulgent and mildly pornographic.
What makes Skins so great is not just the frank and unabashed look at teenage life. It has some pretty epic acting talent. Hoult went on to become an A-list actor in films like Warm Bodies and X-Men: First Class. Patel rose to stardom in the Oscar winner Slumdog Millionaire and critically acclaimed The Newsroom.
All seven series of Skins including the climactic final series are available on Netflix.
Based on the first of Philip Pullman’s bestselling fantasy trilogy The Golden Compass follows along the same lines as the Harry Potter series. It is set in a parallel universe very much like our own but not quite in which there are witches who fly the skies armored ice bears who rule the north and individual animal spirits called "daemons" who are intricately joined to their human counterparts. And of course there is also the whole good vs. evil milieu. The bad guys in this scenario are the Magisterium a group of high-minded intellectuals running the joint who want to control all of humanity by basically eliminating free will. Our heroine is 12-year-old Lyra Belacqua (Dakota Blue Richards) who turns out to be the Magisterium’s greatest threat because she is the child destined to possess the last remaining Golden Compass a truth-telling device. Still with me? Her uncle the scientist Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig) is captured by the Magisterium while a benefactress Mrs. Coulter (Nicole Kidman) takes Lyra under her wing--mind you not for benevolent reasons. Escaping Mrs. Coulter’s clutches Lyra sets out to find her loyal friend who has mysteriously joined the hundreds of children currently disappearing without a trace. Her adventure takes her over sky and ocean to the north and with her band of friends and allies--and the power of the Golden Compass--Lyra will need all her skill and courage to stop the war that’s coming. Whew that’s a tall order to fill for one little girl. But don’t let the little-girl act fool you. As played by the lovely Richards in her debut performance Lyra is one tough cookie seemingly unafraid of the challenges she faces including confronting a 12-foot-tall polar bear charging at her among other things. Much like Daniel Radcliffe before her the plucky actress is quite a find and should The Golden Compass trilogy continue she’ll be an indelible part of it. As will Kidman and Craig as the yin-and-yang parental figures in Lyra’s life--particularly Kidman who doesn’t stretch much but is effective as Mrs. Coulter. The enchanting lady whose daemon is a nasty golden monkey that doesn’t talk (fits the character perfectly) really does have ice water flowing through her veins. Also good are Sam Elliott as Texan aeronaut Lee Scoresby and Eva Green as the ethereal witch Serafina Pekkala. But the character who makes the biggest impression both literally and figuratively is the armored ice bear Iorek Byrnison an exiled prince from his homeland of Svalbard who is looking for a little retribution. As voiced by Ian McKellen (who else?) Iorek is definitely a force to be reckoned with every time he is on screen. His bear-on-bear battle with the reigning Svalbardian king who kicked him out is one of the film’s best moments. Love the character names too. There’s a lot going on in The Golden Compass which might confuse the smaller ones in the audience. Pullman's books are dense much like the Harry Potter series and one must stay pretty focused to follow all the film's plot points--some of which will with any luck make more sense further down the line. And it is also at times hard to stay emotionally involved in the spectacle of it all (the exception is definitely the ice bears). But still if you allow yourself to be immersed in this fantastical purely make-believe world of gadgetry grandeur and austerity much like the worlds of Harry Potter Lord of the Rings and Chronicles of Narnia then you shouldn’t be too disappointed with Golden Compass. Even more amazing is the director who came up with the film’s vision: Chris Weitz best known for helming the little British dramedy About a Boy. Maybe not the first choice but it’s clear the director is passionate about the material as he covers as much ground as possible in the first installment. Probably the most fascinating part are the daemons who are the animal manifestations of their human counterparts interconnected in all ways. Some have smaller domestic animals such as dogs cats mice; some like Lord Asriel have big animals such as snow leopard; some even have insects. It gets your mind wandering about what yours might be.