You’d think after seven years of being off the air, Skins’ audience might have at least begun to grow out of the British dramedy by now. But recent viral TikToks beg to differ, bringing back the sweet nostalgia of watching the show from under the covers late at night (probably on your iPod Touch) and then immediately deleting it from your family Netflix history.
Skins is about a friend group, but it’s not the show you choose when you’re sitting in a basement with friends looking for something to watch. It’s nostalgic, but it’s not the show you pick when you want to laugh about how the things you loved as a child haven’t held up over the years. Skins is the show you cuddle up with in bed after you’ve been crying all night. It’s as absurd and escapist as it is candid and sincere. It can distract you from your emotions or it can validate them or it can do both.
The show left Netflix in August, and after having it there for as long as I can remember—or at least for as long as I can remember Netflix being a thing—I’m still grieving. Like being reunited with an old friend, Skins and I could pick up right where we left off even after years apart. I didn’t watch it all the time, but it was nice knowing it was there when I needed it.
I watched the show for the first time when I was maybe 15, flying through the first two seasons in one night over winter break. I can still smell the pomegranate-scented holiday candle I burned through and the ten different polishes I used to paint each of my nails its own special color. It was a big, fun sleepover even though it was just me in my bedroom. And so began my secret, sacred relationship with Skins.
Like any other teen, I’d watched plenty of the other shows that were popular at the time, like Gossip Girl and 90210. But before watching Skins I never knew I could relate to characters so deeply. I often felt like Sid, trudging along in the shadow of his much more popular best friend. I knew what it was like to be Michelle, aching for her own boyfriend to notice her. And when I made it to the second generation, Naomi’s shame surrounding her sexuality helped me examine my own.
Now, plenty of new shows get compared to Skins, including Euphoria (“Skins on an HBO budget”) and Sex Education (“the Skins of modern times”), but none of these existed seven years ago. Seven years ago, there were plenty of 22-year-olds portraying 16-year-olds on teen dramas, but not a lot of actual 16-year-olds. The actors on Skins were the only ones on teen TV with dirty clothes, chapped lips, and acne-dotted foreheads. They were truly the age of the characters they played, and it showed.
As I continued watching, I quickly learned that there was more to Skins’ relatability than just the actors’ appearance. The characters were written to love each other and deal with heartbreak the same way real people—real teenagers—do. While characters from other teen dramas were jetting off to Paris and hitting up glamorous clubs to escape their feelings, Michelle was drunk crying in the locker room showers and Cassie was naming her pet slug after the boy who’d broken her heart. We all react to our breakups in the same silly ways.
Despite all of that, I have friends who never got into Skins because it was too unrealistic. In some ways, it is. Never in my life have I worn glittery makeup to school, had a spaghetti fight in my friend’s living room, or lost a stolen Mercedes in a harbor with three ounces of drugs inside. But Skins’ ridiculousness only adds to its authenticity. The show is written like some teenagers with laptops were just fucking around and seeing how much they could push the envelope. And as it turns out, that’s exactly what the show’s young writers were doing. Exaggeration worked for Skins then—and it’s working for Euphoria now.
To me, that’s the magic of Skins. The writers created a world that feels far from reality and yet closer to real adolescence than any other show. Yes, Skins featured a stolen coffin car chase, a school production of Osama! The Musical, and a cast sing-along to Cat Stevens’ “Wild World.” The characters lived in an outrageous version of real life, but they were still experiencing the monotony of secondary school, the confusion of sex and relationships, the pain of parents divorcing, the hurt of drifting apart from a friend. It was crazy, it was comical, but it took teens seriously.
By Natalie Mechem