TV Review: Skins: Series 5, Episode 3 – ‘Mini’



(This recap/review contains spoilers)

Skins continues to embrace a new-found maturity with the fifth series’ third episode, avoiding the tired shagging-and-spliffs hedonism and cloying melodrama for something more honest and heartfelt. Unfortunately, Series Five’s trend of borrowing teen movie tropes continues to railroad this episode’s lead character and Mini being portrayed as such a one-note, detestable bitchmonster for every moment of the show so far paints the writers into a corner, with almost any attempt to humanize or inspire sympathy a fruitless task. Despite a few raw and effective stand-out moments, sadly the hollow characters at the centre leave ‘Mini’ feeling like a tiresome detour from the abundantly more interesting, unique and fleshed-out members of the group.

It’s a new day at Roundview College and preparations for the impending charity fashion show are in full swing, with Mini at the head of the planning committee, delegating the workload onto long-suffering pal Grace. During Mini’s pre-college morning routine, we see that she’s putting herself through a borderline eating disorder (aided by gym instructor guest star Kelly Brook) to keep herself thin and popular while enduring a single mother (Claire Grogan) who brings home a new guy every night to bang senseless, instilling in her daughter the belief that guys will only ever want her for sex. When she gets to college to find that Grace has enlisted Franky to craft some unique, awesome new costumes that incorporate the show’s theme perfectly (outfits made from fun-to-touch textured materials – velvet, silk, faux-furs – in a fashion show raising money for blindness), Mini throws a hissy fit, fires the two of them and as narcissism takes over, decides to replace the head models with herself and boyfriend Nick.
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Meanwhile, Nick’s heavily pressuring Mini to sleep with him, but despite having crafted a reputation for herself as someone who’s slept with tonnes of guys before, she’s actually a virgin who’s not ready for sex. Doing everything she can to postpone them sleeping together, things come to a head when Nick only agrees to model for the show if she’ll spend the night with him. Body issues, sexual insecurity and the pressure to have sex before you’re ready are all potent, commendable themes to aim at a teen audience, and it’s great that Skins continues to evolve beyond the glamour and shock value of teen hedonism and start to mature, but it’d be a hell of a lot more resonant if those issues weren’t filtered through such dull stereotypes and overworn tropes.

An eating disorder is a terrible thing for anyone to suffer through in reality, but on-screen, the beautiful, blonde queen bee cursed with good looks starving herself to stay ridiculously thin, retain popularity and achieve an unrealistic standard of beauty is an overly familiar cliché. Hell, the first series of Skins tackled that issue with an infinitely more sympathetic, well-developed character all while successfully dodging stereotypes. Ultimately seeing Mini’s relatively trite day-to-day troubles and her continued aggressive bitchiness to the few who’re actually nice to her do little to garner sympathy or justify the actions of such an insufferable boilerplate bitchqueen. It might also help if Nick weren’t a one-dimensional personification of the sex-driven jock trope (the only real attempt to flesh him out beyond a jock stereotype is to have him dress like Forrest Gump’s colour-blind cousin).
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The almost complete lack of character beyond that leaves so much of the episode feeling simply bland, only really picking up when we get fleeting glimpses of the other, infinitely more interesting and well-written characters who’ve been quickly winning our hearts. Grace, having finally given up on Mini, plucks up the courage to ask Rich out, leading them to share an awkward, but incredibly sweet first kiss (as Alo gives an ‘It’s about damn time!’ thumbs-up). Franky offers another olive branch to Mini, despite her bitchiness, simply because she looks like she’s having a bad day (before Franky’s Ed Cullen-wannabe stalker Matty creepily glares at her from across the room, then vanishes). The few, fleeting scenes with genuinely likeable people only show how bland and hollow Mini and Nick are, leaving us wishing we were watching another episode geared around Franky & Co. It’s like suffering through a version of Pretty in Pink where all our time was spent with Kate Vernon and James Spader and we barely saw Andie and Ducky, Heathers with Heather Chandler as our protagonist rather than Veronica and J.D. or Pretty Little Liars if it were, well, Pretty Little Liars.

Still, while much of the episode is a serviceable, but familiar affair, it manages to pick up with Mini’s downfall. After throwing up on Nick and passing out moments before they were going to have sex, leaving him to try it on with Liv instead, the next day Mini reaches school to find people laughing and gossiping about her upchuck escapade. Liv and Nick are suspiciously unreachable, the fashion show is imploding and Mini has a stress-induced meltdown. After passing out, she’s removed from planning the fashion show, leaving Grace and Franky to step back in to save the day and Liv to take her place with Nick as lead models. Mini dashes home to bleach her hair, cover herself in fake tan until she looks like a burn victim and rushes to the show’s after-party in a desperate attempt to salvage her social status. After spotting Nick and Liv conspicuously shuffling out of the toilets together having clearly had sex, Mini warns her to stay away from them both and drags her douchey boyfriend back to his place.
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It’s here that the episode starts to move away from trite cliché and towards something more thought-out and genuine, and if there were any more sensationalist “think of the children!” accusations that Skins just glamourizes teen sex, they’ll be completely dispelled with this episode. When Mini finally gives in and sleeps with Nick, it’s not because she’s ready or especially willing – it’s as a desperate means to keep the boy and the life she’s been clinging to, despite him clearly being a scumbag with no real interest in her. Her losing her virginity is a far cry from the casual and passionate hook-ups that have populated the show so far – it’s an awkward, painful and quite tragic scene that finally leaves us pitying Mini. Sadly, it’s a raw, sad scene that’s almost undone by the painfully hamfisted and on-the-nose scene that follows, as Mini stumbles home, used, sad and broken, only to bump into her mum doing the exact same morning-after walk of shame – Mini having finally become her mother.

The crowning stark, tragic moments and the fact that Freya Mavor does an excellent job are unfortunately almost outweighed by the continued over-reliance on well-worn tropes and trite ideas – problems that are far less forgiveable without an inherently likeable or well-developed lead character to redeem them. It’s a shame, too, since when it finally reaches its final moments, ‘Mini’ shows just how mature and effective the show can be, it’s just unfortunate that the time taken getting there is spent with such unbearable characters.

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Skins airs in the UK on E4 and E4 HD, Thursdays at 10pm.