What's Underneath the Fifth Layer of Skins?

Skins' entire main cast has been changed before, in fact they’re replaced every two years. Fans were skeptical the first time round, even with Effy Stonem (Kaya Scodelario) to hold their hands; but this time there’s no guidance. Despite rumours that James Fitch might return, the only recognisable characters are the teachers. So what can we expect from the newest gang of Skins? And will their transition be a smooth one?

Judging by the first scene of season five (airing January 27 on E4 at 10pm) the writers are keen to stay faithful to the show’s roots. Opening with a panning shot of the new lead’s sleeping face we’re reminded of Skins’ first ever star: Tony Stonem (Nicholas Hoult). He was introduced in exactly the same way when the series first aired in 2007.

As has always been the case in Skins, the new characters are an amalgamation of stereotypes. There’s the popular bitchy one (Mini); the impressionable kooky one (Grace); the head-strong smart one (Liv); the handsome sporty one (Nick); the uncool comedians (Rich and Alo); the mysterious stranger (Matty) and the alluring outcast (Franky).

Thankfully, it’s Franky who’s taken over from Effy as the centerpiece of this Skins generation. We say thankfully because Dakota Blue Richards, who plays her, is the only one with any major acting experience--nurtured as a child on The Golden Compass--and it shows. Franky’s arrival at college, three weeks into term, is where the new series begins. While Dakota effortlessly portrays the reluctant outsider, the others give mostly awkward performances. In a way this adds to the “first day” feel of the premiere, but it’s a cringeworthy atmosphere we really hope won’t last.

Acting abilities aside, this series feels more realistic than the last. After all, a teenager *is* more likely to get bullied than be bludgeoned to death by a psychiatrist. “It has some unrealistic elements, but it’s never too far from what we can relate to,” Freya Mavor, who plays Mini, tells TV.com. “I think they’ve really tried to make this series funny and light because the last series got quite dark,” Richards adds.

There’s little comedy in the first episode because the male characters, who are set to provide this, feature very little. The rebellious teen theme remains prevalent, however, with the girls popping pills like they’re M&Ms.; Those actions seem more an afterthought to give the otherwise naive characters something of an edge, though.

Unlike other Skins generations, this group have been signed on for two seasons from the very start. There’s plenty of time, then, for their character flaws to be ironed out--especially as the writers are already looking ahead to season two. TV.com has been told by the cast that this season is a set-up for the sixth, which will “turn this series on its head”. Will you last that long though?

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