TV Review: Skins: Series 5, Episode 6 – ‘Alo’



(This recap/review contains spoilers)

It’s farm boy Aloysius “Alo” Creevey’s birthday, and after his morning routine of masturbating at his dual monitor ‘WankStation’ computer set-up to pineapple-related porn, getting high and peeing in the sink (or in a mug next to the sink), it’s time to meet his parents. After opening his gifts (a not-so-covertly wrapped shovel and a John Deere tractor), it becomes clear that his parents – or at least his domineering mother – are far more concerned with his farm responsibilities than his happiness. After overheating the tractor, he manages to sneak away to the party that Rich has planned for him, where Liv has arranged for him to lose his virginity to a homely girl with a lazy eye.
.
.

.
.
He awakens the next morning – hungover and evidently not deflowered, judging by the word “Virgin” scribbled across his forehead – to find that his overbearing mum has received his terrible predicted college grades and is pulling him out of education to work on the farm full time, while his emasculated, under-the-thumb dad sheepishly nods and agrees. While his parents are meeting with head of college David Blood, the entire gang (minus Nick) kidnap Alo and take him to the pub, pointing out how crappy it is that his parents are ignoring his wishes and treating him like one of the farm’s cattle. Unfortunately his folks track him down and drag him home to toil away on the farm, and after a failed attempt at moving the gigantic boulder that serves as a thinly-veiled metaphor for the Creevey family’s dictatorial matriarch (Alo’s dad points out that “That one don’t move. It’s always been there, so just do as your told, see?”), he storms off to have a smoke in the barn. After inhaling a little too forcefully, he coughs his guts out and drops his joint in the hay next to a propane tank, setting up the most memorable cow detonation since Three Kings.
.
.

.
.
Something I’ve mentioned a few times over the past few weeks is how much difference it makes when an episode focuses on an immediately likeable character. Choosing to centre on a mostly uninteresting or unlikeable character is an uphill struggle in itself, and while Nick’s episode managed to shape him into an interesting character against the odds, the preceding weeks did so little with Mini and Liv that they didn’t really feel like necessary or worthwhile episodes, especially since they almost entirely forgot about the supporting cast, too. After three weeks of focusing on the less likeable members of the cast, it’s a welcome change to find Alo – one of the more eminently loveable characters – front and centre. Him being the lively social centre of the group also means that this episode tackles this year’s failings head-on, doing a fantastic job of juggling an entertaining individual story focusing on an infinitely more likeable character, with plenty of screentime for the neglected rest of the group. This episode makes infinitely better use of the ensemble than the past five episodes have, and all while avoiding the teen movie stereotypes that have largely defined this year.
.
.

.
.
After he accidentally blows up the family cow Bessie, Alo’s parents take all his worldly possessions (including the WankStation and his beloved dog Rags), loads them onto a truck and drive off to sell the lot. Having had enough, Alo rebels by calling the gang over for an epic milk bomb and flour fight before inviting everyone in Bristol round for a party at the farm. Grace decides that she and Rich should sleep together that night. Mini arrives (to Alo’s excited greeting of “Minerva McGuinness! …Is that not your full name?”), spots Franky dancing with one of Matty’s apparent friends, assumes it’s her way of making him jealous and promptly spots a villainous opportunity. She mentions that she’s noticed the way Franky and The Lone Brooder have been looking at each other and encourages her to go for it, regardless of his girlfriend Liv. Franky naturally susses out that Mini’s purely trying anything possible to screw things up for Liv, and angrily points that she’s been trying incredibly hard to show everyone that Mini isn’t a complete bitch, before storming off to dance again. When Matty’s sleazy friend gets too gropey, she pushes him away, provoking him to shove her against her a wall and call her a dyke. Matty sees it happen, but merely stands around gormlessly like a guppy trying to understand algebra, proving he’s useless in situations that don’t require brooding and/or glaring creepily. Instead, it’s Nick who steps in to defend her honour, grabbing the guy by the neck while Liv goes to comfort Franky.
.
.

.
.
Liv quizzes Franky about what’s apparently been on a lot of viewers’ minds, asking what the deal with her sexuality is. Franky stays silent and Liv takes the hint to not push her about it, giving her a kiss on the hand and a hug instead. The Creevey family return, causing everyone to flee in fear of potentially angry farmers with shotguns, before Alo stands up to his dad, pointing out how emasculated he is and how he never makes any of his own decisions thanks to the tyrannical Mrs. Creevey. Alo’s shouting causes his father to collapse from an apparent heart attack before being rushed to hospital, leaving Alo alone and despondent. He ends up at Nick’s, where the Levan house has been turned into a party pad for the weekend in their dad’s absence. Franky sees Matty and Liv having sex in the bathroom and stands watching them for a while, lust and sexual curiosity clearly bubbling under the surface, but she dashes away when Matty spots her in the doorway. Alo winds up alone and upset in the living room with Mini, who surprisingly acts like a human being for a change and comforts him.
.
.

.
.
Alo is impressed that Mini’s actually not a complete bitchmonster and decides to go find Rich for some bromance bonding. He gets to Rich’s with the intent on the two of them ditching town, but when his metalhead pal answer the door with a beaming smile, Alo asks, “Has Hannah Montana died or something?” before Rich reveals that he lost his virginity to Grace. Alo’s happy for Rich, but quickly realises that his best friend is growing up quicker than he is and has an entire fruitful life outside their friendship now. Rather than burden Rich with his worries, Alo returns home to find that his dad’s okay and has finally put his foot down, stopping his wife from selling off the dog. Alo decides to make more of an effort in acting mature, and after a chat with his mum and an agreement that they’ll both try harder, he sets off to his farming chores, finally toppling the immovable boulder metaphor with the help of his dad.
.
.

.
.
The minor problems with this episode are more a reflection on the problems of the episodes that come before it: Major moments between characters feel less effective because we’ve barely seen them interact over the weeks, thanks to the absence of scenes that focused on the group as a whole. Rich and Grace deciding to have sex for the first time has less impact than it should because we haven’t seen their relationship progress over the weeks – since Rich’s episode they’ve been set dressing and little else. Liv chatting to Franky like they’re hair-braiding, sleepover-having best friends feels odd since we haven’t really seen them talk to each other at all. The group dynamics that prior series’ have set up so seamlessly from episode to episode have been noticeably absent here, thanks to too much wasted time on less interesting individuals and not enough on the group as a whole.
.
.

.
.
Still, it’s a trend that this episode tries to buck, providing a great, fun, well acted solo outing for one of this generation’s most likeable characters, with the writers finally remembering that the supporting cast are still allowed to have worthwhile character moments even if it’s not their episode. At this point it feels like this year, with plenty of wasted time and no larger story, is more about laying the groundwork for a potentially much stronger second year for this generation of characters than a great standalone series. Even so, after an incredibly uneven first half of the series, for the first time this season it feels like the show’s firing on all cylinders with a greater balance of solo and ensemble story, and hopefully it’s a momentum that keeps up for the last two episodes.

Rating:




Skins airs in the UK on E4 and E4 HD, Thursdays at 10pm.
Click here to pre-order Series Five on DVD, which is released in the UK on March 21st 2011.