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Song of the Day (9/30/09) September 30, 2009

Posted by monty in music.
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You know how sometimes music can just punch you in the gut and you have no idea why?  That’s the way The Twilight Sad is for me.  This Scottish band has been one of my favorites since the release of their debut album, Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters, a couple years ago.  They mix abstract, vaguely poetic lyrics with walls and waves and cathedrals of guitar noise; the effect is one of intense melancholy, of lowering clouds and rain lashing the windows.  In a good way.

I saw them open for Frightened Rabbit last week, and their music was more powerful and more beautiful than ever.  I got the chance to talk to James and Andy (their singer and guitarist, respectively) after the show, and they were just as swell as I’d hoped.

This is the first track off their debut, and the namesake for the inaugural post of this blog.  Here’s “Cold Days from the Birdhouse”:

Cold Days from the Birdhouse September 30, 2009

Posted by monty in TV.
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Yes, I know.  Another blog.  When it comes to online writing, I’ve had more false starts than even the most patient reader should be able to stand.  So I’m not going to explain or justify abandoning the old blog, changing venue, and starting a new blog (my 5th, if memory serves).  Suffice it to say, I’m here, and away we go.



When it comes to music, I’m usually well ahead of the curve – the annoying nerd constantly raving about some band or album that’s only popular in England “because it won’t be released, you know, domestically for another couple months.”  The same is true, but a little less pronounced, with movies. Even when I haven’t seen everything, I’m aware of what’s coming down the pike, and at least have plans to see it when circumstances allow.

With TV, though, I’m usually one of the last to know.  If TV were clothing, I’d be the guy still wearing parachute pants and a Member’s Only jacket while everyone else was on to whatever new-fangled sartorial trend is hip with the kids these days.  Arrested Development.  Freaks & Geeks.  The Wire.  The State.  Spaced.  Curb Your Enthusiasm.  Lost.  Mr. Show. These were all shows I only came to after they were already off the air, or were well into their runs.

And so it is with Channel 4’s Skins.

I’d heard this show referenced for a long time in British music mags, and I knew Slumdog Millionaire‘s Dev Patel had been in the first couple seasons. Even though it’s been on my radar for a while, I’d never actually taken the plunge.  A couple weeks ago I finally arranged for the first disc of Series 1, determined to feed my jones for all things British.  I’ve plowed through Series 1, and last night I devoured the first episode of Series 2.  And the verdict?

I haven’t been this excited about a show since I first discovered The Wire. It’s incredible.  Each episode contains at least one moment where I laugh out loud.  Not because it’s funny (although it’s that, too), but because I simply can’t believe how good it is.  I don’t think I’ve ever clapped at a TV show before, but I catch myself doing that, too.  It’s sad and exciting, all at once.

For those not in the know, here’s the nitty-gritty.  Skins revolves around a group of British teens, doing the things British teens do.  Unlike shows featuring their American counterparts, Skins isn’t softened or sugar-coated.  There’s a lot of sex, a lot of drug use, a lot of violence, a lot of people doing unlikable things.  But also unlike some other American shows (The O.C. and The Hills come immediately to mind), the characters aren’t stupid, vacuous pieces of shit.  They’re real people, dealing with real people problems.  While there are definite arcs that span the entire first series, each episode zeroes in on one of the core characters:

Skins_TonyStonem_NicholasHoult Tony (Nicholas Hoult, the Boy in About a Boy, all grown up) is a manipulative, charismatic asshole.  The rest of the characters, for better or worse, revolve around him, and often the episodes that don’t focus on him involve incidents that were caused by him.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a show where the main character is this potentially unlikable, and it’s to Hoult’s credit as an actor that we don’t completely turn from Tony in disugust.  Series 2 begins with him struggling to deal with a horrific incident that happened in the Series 1 finale, revealing another level of complexity to an already fascinating character.

michelle Michelle (April Pearson) is Tony’s girlfriend.  At first she simply appears to be another brassy young girl, confident in her sexuality.  As Series 1 progresses, though, we see her struggling to come to grips with and extricate herself from Tony’s various infidelities.  In the process, her insecurities come to the fore, and we see that her sexy confidence is actually a facade masking massive amounts of self-doubt.

Mike Bailey Sid (Mike Bailey) is Tony’s best friend.  In less capable hands, he could have been painted as just another in a long line of lovable, garden-variety dweebs, but on Skins he wrestles with his attraction to Michelle, his growing fondness for Cassie (see below), the fierce loyalty he feels for Tony (despite his best friend’s duplicity), and his parents’ split.  As portrayed by Bailey, Sid sidesteps cliché to become a complex, layered character who could have been ripped from the halls of any high school around the world.

cassie Cassie (Hannah Murray) is one of the saddest and most sympathetic characters on the show.  Suicidal and suffering from an eating disorder, she drifts in and out of care facilities, none of which seem to work.  She’s often ancillary to the main group of characters, but her attraction to Sid – for me at least – is the heart of the show, and their sweet, fumbling relationship is one of the most rewarding aspects of Series 1.

jal 2 Jal (Larissa Wilson) is Michelle’s best friend.  The more grounded and studious of the pair, she is often given the unenviable role of being the good angel on Michelle’s shoulder who attempts to talk her out of her more destructive impulses.  This character could run the risk of seeming like a boring killjoy whose only purpose is to be the “good girl.”  As with the other characters, Skins casts Jal as a real person with multiple dimensions, trapped in a family with a neglectful father who sees her as the embodiment of the woman who left him.

Chris Chris (Joseph Dempsie), is the closest Skins comes to a one-dimensional character. He is seen through most of Series 1 as an insatiable, drug-gobbling horndog with the heart of a romantic, and is known principally for having the hots for his Psychology teacher.  Toward the end of the first series and at the start of the second, though, we start to see hidden depths in his character as he struggles to come to grips with the realization that his feelings toward the older woman are real.  This culminates in a realization about her past that sends him reeling.  It’s a welcome development in what could have been just a joke character whose sole purpose is comic relief.


Maxxie (Mitch Hewer), resident homosexual and aspiring dancer, is another character who could have simply been portrayed as a flimsy stereotype.  Skins dodges this trap by focusing on the uncomfortable friendship between Maxxie and Anwar (see below).  Through these last two characters, Skins tackles The Big Issues, of religion and sexual identity and tolerance, and they do it in a way that never feels awkward or heavy-handed.  And at the start of Series 2 we see even greater depths to Maxxie’s character, as we learn more about his home life and the aftermath of what happens to Tony in the finale.

Anwar Anwar (Dev Patel) is, like Chris, a character who deepens in complexity as Series 1 progresses.  We first see him as a youth wrestling with the tension between his hormonal impulses and his desire to be a more devout Muslim.  Compounding this tension is Anwar’s friendship with Maxxie, and his realization that, if he follows the tenets of his religion, they can no longer be friends.  This conflict carries through to the end of Series 1, and becomes one of the most compelling relationships in the series.  It’s an issue that American television simply wouldn’t touch.

These tiny capsules only capture a fraction of what makes Skins so fantastic.  If it doesn’t sound great, it’s my fault as a reviewer and not the subject matter that’s to blame.  And for people who think, “Another show about teenagers?,” all I can recommend is that you give Skins a chance.  There are so many ways this show could suck – falling prey to mawkishness, cliché, and phoniness – but it manages to avoid all of them.  The acting is pitch-perfect, the dialogue crackles believably, and the storylines are rich and compelling (as opposed to being a bunch of hokey plots cooked up by 40-somethings trying to be hip).  Somehow creators Jamie Brittain and Bryan Elsley have successfully channeled their inner 18-year-olds to create a show that transcends age and nationality.  I was hooked by the end of the first episode.  Skins is, simply put, like nothing I’ve ever seen.


Current listening:

Hush yankee

Hush Arbors – Yankee Reality

Current reading:


Dave Eggers – What is the What

Last movie seen:


Pandorum (Christian Alvart, dir.)