TV Review: Skins: Series 5, Episode 4 – ‘Liv’



(This recap/review contains spoilers)

After three episodes of relative restraint and maturity, ‘Liv’ calls to mind many of the missteps of the last few years of Skins: An overblown, melodramatic teen romance, an over-reliance on sex, drugs and partying scenes and a sub-plot that drags the show back to the out-of-place extremes of nutty psychologist John Foster. Even so, a small step away from the character stereotypes and cliché that have hounded much of the series so far goes a long way towards making this episode an engaging one, even if it doesn’t deliver on this generation’s initial promise.

When we catch up with Liv this week, she’s back to banging her best friend’s boyfriend in the back of Alo’s van (there’s a line dropped in later to explain that they broke into it, but it feels like a last-minute ADR dub after someone realised that Alo wouldn’t realistically let these assclowns sully his beloved van), not exactly leaving us with a rosy impression of her character. When she stumbles home, she’s greeted by her mother Agnes (Jaye Griffiths), a middle-class single parent wrapped up in the new-age hippy-ish pastime of healing gemstones and the importance of a finely-tuned chakra – the latest in a series of her kooky hobbies – who berates Liv for coming home looking like a zombie every morning, before jetting off to a convention for like-minded new-agers.
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Naturally, with a free house, it’s not long before a party is organized. Mini arrives on Liv’s doorstep with the whole gang and a bag of weed in what she claims to be an earnest attempt to mend fences now that she’s learned the error of her ways, though it’s tough to trust a word she says, and though she claims to not remember anything after her meltdown, she’s clearly plotting something in that sinister blonde noggin. As the gang sets about smoking their way through their weed, Liv is shooed away to fetch some sherry as Mini sets out to exclude her from her own party and isolate her from the group. Liv takes her precocious little sister Maude along and ditches her at the sci-fi movie marathon she’s been raving about, before stopping off at prison to visit her other sister. It seems Bella – the oldest of Liv’s two siblings – has been locked up for getting violent with their mother for reasons unknown.

Then it’s off to the bus station for a smoke, where she bumps into Franky’s creepy stalker Matty, who continues to be a pretentious douche. But, hey, Ed Cullen proved that pretentious douchey stalkers are irresistible to anyone with ovaries, so it’s only natural that Liv would rush to do MDMA with this mysterious stranger and the two would shoplift some booze, spending the day getting wasted together. A brief stopover at a costume shop leads to the two being locked inside and Liv almost molested by the store’s evil owner, but after beating him unconscious and escaping with the contents of the till and two bear costumes, Matty and Liv get back to their regularly-scheduled programme of drink, drugs and sex.
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Sadly, while Liv is less of an unbearable cliché than her pal Mini, she’s not an especially likeable character either. Her justification for sleeping with her friend’s boyfriend is that it’s not worth feeling guilty over since Mini’s always playing her, which doesn’t earn much sympathy – why not simply eject Mini from her life, join Grace and Franky and just decide not to be a monstrous bitch herself? She feels guilty after hurting a sexual deviant who tried to attack (and potentially rape and kill) her, to the extent that she returns to the scene of the crime to make sure he’s okay, but her first instinct when holding evidence that could lock away a dangerous sex offender and prevent further attacks on future girls is to destroy the videotape and dance around cheerfully with the yanked-out tape. Whether the MDMA made her a moron or if it just comes naturally is a mystery saved for another week.

The next day, when the two finally wander back to Liv’s house and the party she’s forgotten about, they find everyone passed out, save for Mini, who’s having sex with Nick in Liv’s bed, purely to get back at the cheating hussy. Liv isn’t bothered, though, as she’s only back long enough to pack her bags and run away with Matty, despite knowing him for 23 seconds. When Nick rears his head from the covers, though, he instantly recognises Matty as his brother – so that’s why these two look indistinguishable from each other. Evidently, the two had a falling out and Matty was thrown out of their home after he punched Nick for reasons unknown – presumably Matt was resentful that DNA gave his brother two individual eyebrows while he only got a Frida Kahlo unibrow. Nick warns Liv against going with his brother and calls him a dangerous psycho (without explaining why), so she disowns Matt, kicks everyone out, soon realising that she’d left her younger sister at the cinema all night. Whoops.
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Franky briefly re-emerges from sleeping behind the sofa to play fairy godmother to Liv, pointing out that all the hate and blame between her and Mini is toxic, and they both need to remember why they were friends to begin with. Liv then then runs off to find Matty at the bus station, only to find he’s brooding over her not trusting him, and before he can step on a bus, she downs an entire bottle of vodka in an attempt to get him to stay (again, she’s only known this guy for about half a minute). He takes her home (breaking into the garage of his house) and takes care of her until the morning when he begs his brother to let him move back home – evidently under all that pretentious loner posturing, he just wants his mummy and daddy. When Liv goes to see Mini to fess up about sleeping with her boyfriend, the blonde queen bee mentions that Liv downed a bottle of vodka to express her sorrow to Matty, then offers her another bottle to drink to prove how sorry she is for cheating. Liv pleads with Mini to be more understanding, and points out that her stomach is stripped raw from the night before, but she makes her down the bottle anyway, and even then only wishes death upon her before leaving her in pain. Again, why the hell would anyone, even a morally wonky moron like Liv, ever want to be friends with this bitchmonster?

Seeing Matty step away from the creepy stalking and pompous broodiness makes him substantially more bearable, and the all-too-brief glimpses at his home life are infinitely more interesting than the sex, drugs and teenage delinquency that constitutes the rest of his character this episode. And while her morals are barely existent and Liv isn’t particularly likeable, there are hints of a well-rounded, fleshed-out character beneath it all (unlike Mini, who’s back to being the one-dimensional scheming villain this week). Unfortunately, that’s all we get – hints of character.
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All considered, we learn essentially nothing about Liv beyond her basic family situation and only the vaguest clues surrounding her older sister, which leaves the episode feeling more like insubstantial filler than anything else. More and more it seems that Skins sticks with the ‘one episode devoted to each character’ format simply because that’s what the show has always done, whether there’s enough content to demand it or not; there’s little actual character development here to warrant a solo episode, and it would’ve been wiser to just combine Liv and Matty’s episodes, bringing in more material to fill out this sparse outing and leaving an extra hour in the series for more interesting members of the group.

That said, this episode is a more engaging and eventful one than the last, even if those events are largely extraneous filler. Liv, though not a character that’s especially likeable, is driven by a solid performance from Laya Lewis and at least offers a more diverse alternative than the cartoon cliché we got in Mini, and any episode that can even briefly make the cringeworthy character of Matty even momentarily tolerable is doing at least a little something right. Even so, the show would do well to realise exactly why this series has worked so well when it has: Skins isn’t at its best when it’s wallowing in brooding, melodramatic romance (hopefully Liv, Matty and Franky won’t get dragged down the route of an unbearable Effy love triangle), spending too much screen time on despicable, boring and barely-written characters or cramming each episode to the brim with gratuitous sex and drugs, it’s at its strongest when the genuinely interesting and endearing characters are at the centre of things. Unfortunately with Nick up next, that’ll be the third week that the likeable half of the cast have been shunted to the background to focus on the dull dregs of this generation, so hopefully there’ll be a swift upturn in quality to deliver on the initial promise of this year.

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