Procrastinate Better

Watch the Original “Skins” Before the American Version Debuts

From time to time, a Slate staffer or critic offers up a favorite cultural pick for Procrastinate Better readers. Today’s endorsement is from Slate technology columnist Farhad Manjoo .

For the last few months MTV has been heavily promoting Skins , its upcoming show about high school kids, trippy drugs, trippier sex, and—if the trailers are any indication— much-too trippy camera work . The show will only begin to air in late January, but it’s already attracted a crowd of detractors —cultists who are worried that MTV will ruin the good name of the original British Skins , which has been running since 2007.

They’re right to worry. The original Skins is thrilling mainly for the surreal touch it brings to a very particular culture: The world of drug-addled, parentally neglected middle-class kids in Bristol. Skins follows in the long tradition of high-school dramas populated by kids who are far wittier than adults, and who do things that actual high school kids would never do (see Dawson’s Creek or Gilmore Girls ) but its real genius is in taking that convention way over the line of realism. The kids of Skins don’t just act like adults, they act like adults in madcap heist movies. Conventional teen problems—romantic hardships, sex obsession, eating disorders, more sex obsession—are joined by completely off-the-wall scenarios: There are stalkers, kidnappers, rampaging drug dealers, Eastern European strongmen, parents who disappear, teachers who sleep with kids whose parents disappear, and kids who get hit by busses out of the blue.

This sounds ridiculous, and often it is. (Though hilariously so. The second season begins with the kids performing a musical about 9/11 whose central lyric will stay with you for days: “Then came the day Osama blew us away…”) But occasionally Skins ’ absurdity gives way to deep, touching moments that underline the true difficulties of being in high-school; it’s these moments that make the show unavoidably addictive. I don’t have high hopes that MTV can replicate that joy in the American edition, but that shouldn’t matter—the original Skins is available on DVD and instantly on Netflix . Watch it.