Skins, E4, Thursday
Laura Hall: My Battle with Booze, BBC3, Monday
The British show whose American version was described as 'legal kiddie porn', makes a muted return – and film star Dakota Blue Richards doesn't help
Sunday 30 January 2011
The US remake of the first series of Skins has had quite an impact across the pond. "Legal kiddie porn show," wrote one commentator on the progressive website The Huffington Post.
Another went with: "The liberals who served in JFK's Peace Corps [and] marched for civil rights...wanted to build a wholesome, righteous, peaceful and just society, not an excessively permissive, callous, undisciplined and degraded society." All that for a show the critics agree isn't half as "degraded" as the British original.
So who knows what sort of filth our series five, which began this week, might throw up. Judging by the first episode, not an awful lot. Tame to the point of anodyne, it followed the story of Franky Fitzgerald, a newcomer to Roundview College in Bristol. Her first day, in short: she dresses for school in androgynous style. Gay dad number one gives her a Serrano and Reblochon sandwich for lunch – ha, is she going to stick out! Public-school boys pick on her at a bus stop, so she jumps a mobility scooter and slaloms into the school car park, nearly crashing into Queen Bee, Mini, on the way.
Cut to girls' dressing-room ahead of PE (Bras! How rude!) – Mini has a dig at Franky's dress sense; Franky and Mini clash on the hockey field, ending in muddy faces. Franky has a cry but is then asked out to the shopping centre by an apparently apologetic Mini and her acolytes Grace (the new Panda) and Liv (the new nothing – seriously, she has no character at all); they shoplift; they're chased. They escape. BORING!
For a show that prompted the squirm-inducing Inbetweeners and super-Asbo action of Misfits, Skins has become Waterloo Road. There is the occasional spiky line – "It looks like she's been gang-raped by clowns" – but they are out of keeping with the overall tone of playground bitchiness.
The good news: with a new cast every other year, filled by actors with little if any experience, Skins invariably gets better as the series progress. The bad news: Franky is played by Dakota Blue Richards, the veteran of the crew, having made her name in The Golden Compass – and her attempts at emotions are frighteningly lukewarm, even in her own Carrie moment, when she slinks miserably away with a half-hearted attack of Tourette's-like bluster. Put this on in the US and no one would notice it.
There is no doubting Laura Hall's emotions. Dubbed the drunkest girl in Britain by the red-top press, and "despicable and rotten" by a judge, she has been banned from every pub, bar and club in the country for acts of violence. Alcohol "doesn't really agree with me", she says in one of her sober moments – she's not wrong.
Convicted 27 times, Hall has spent six years "wasting my life – I may as well be dead". She talks about a need for real change, but can't stop drinking. One reason could be the media coverage; as much as she may claim not to like being famous for the wrong reasons, she does seem to revel in it.
This is a documentary that offers a degree of insight into addiction, but a curiosity is its failure to mention, until the final 10 minutes, the numerous self-inflicted cuts on her arm. It is a psychological barrier that needed to be breached and could have added much. Instead, we are treated to Hall's 21st birthday going wild in Ayia Napa, before she finally takes up the offer of a Portuguese clinic to dry out. "I give myself two days," she says before flying out (drink consumption on route: a litre of Malibu). She's banging on the car door to be let out before she's even got there.
She emerges 32 days later sober, and with a sobering take on her former life. "I look like a crackhead," she says, viewing footage of herself. "I didn't care what sort of mess I was."
The sad fact is, we are told, 33 per cent of alcoholics do relapse – and Hall had a setback after eight months. But at least she is on the right track.
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