Skins or Why I Stopped Watching 90210
So I vowed to give 90210 another chance a few weeks ago, because it was created by Rob Thomas (Veronica Mars) and because I adore Tristan Wilds from The Wire and want to see him succeed in his next venture. However, I ended up turning off the TV only 20 minutes into the second episode. Not because it was bad — though it was, but because the lead characters played by Shenae Grimes, Jessica Stroup, and AnnaLynne McCord (who I loved in Nip/Tuck) are simply too thin to bear watching.
Here’s the thing. I was as thin as Shannon Doherty and Jennie Garth from the original series in high school. No, let me correct myself. I should say that I was as thin as Brenda and Kelly in high school, because it was possible to be as thin as they were without starving yourself.
I don’t believe that the new series female regulars are actually anorexic. But I am certain that they are starving themselves and over-exercising to look the way that they do.
They probably feel that being extremely thin is the price that girls must pay to be on TV. However, if they’re meant to represent the high school ideal, then they are sending the wrong message to girls across America as we speak: that it is more important to be underweight than to be smart, that extreme thinness attracts both boys and popularity.
And though I tend not judge TV — it is after all, TV. I cannot condone that message. And If I were a parent of impressionable girls, I might allow them to watch The Wire, but I wouldn’t allow them to watch this.
What strikes me as especially interesting about this situation is that my new favorite high school show, Skins on BBC America, has a series regular named Cassie (far left), who has been grappling with anorexia throughout the first season.
Though the very thin actress that plays her weighs more than all three girls in the new 90210, she gets noticeable reactions when she walks down the street. And many of her friends and the adults in her life react negatively to the fact that she is obviously refusing to eat.
This realism is the reason that I’ve come to really love Skins. The teenagers are written as actual high schoolers — not caricatures.
This means that Sid, the socially inept guy with glasses, is not nearly as smart as Tony, the popular (but horribly manipulative) guy. The black girl is not sassy, in fact she plays the clarinet. And the class clown actually has a heartbreaking lack of direction in his life because of absent parents. These middle-class characters all seem like real kids with complex home lives and parents who are difficult for organic reasons — not just to throw up convenient conflict barriers for their kids’ dating lives.
There’s been a lot of commentary about why shows like Gossip Girl and 90210 are flailing in the ratings right now. And I wonder if providing a realistic show, peopled by a diverse cast with complex living situations isn’t the panacea that American teen TV needs. Hopefully after these two shows fail, some executive will realize that it’s both cheaper and more interesting to make a show about middle class kids with varied problems — as opposed to shows about rich kids with the no real problems.
Til then, I’ll be watching Skins on BBC America. Check it out Sundays at 10/9c. And if you want to catch up, all the episodes are available at I-Tunes.