Okay, this actually is a review of the DVD and was written after having watched it, rather than a comment on the series while it was running, unlike most of the other reviews currently available. Just thought I'd make that clear.
What makes Skins hangs on the quality of the characters and the ability of the actors to portray them. The series is very much character, rather than plot, driven unlike say the last thing I watched on tv -the first season of The Wire currently running on BBC2 (and worth a look). And, for the third season in a row, the production team have come up trumps. Before looking at them, it's worth mentioning that the girls are on the whole a very much more interesting lot than the boys.
My favourite of the lot is one whom many people might find one of the most irritating -Pandora. She's naïve, innocent, awkward, overly full of enthusiasm, cleverer than she seems but that isn't hard, sweet, and all too aware of her failings, Lisa Backwell does a simply brilliant job of portraying her and her soft warm rounded voice and accent help a lot. I can imagine Backwell in a Victorian drama (Austen, Bronte, etc), her fresh-faced enthusiastic innocence fitting perfectly -casting directors please note.
Naomi, played by the wonderfully named Lily Loveless, is highly intelligent, introspective, vulnerable, defensive, with a good line in sarcasm and aggressive humour, and is confused by her feelings towards Emily. Without wanting to give anything away, by the series end you feel that her story is only really just beginning and she could be the stand out character of Season 4.
Katie and Emily are identical twins and anything but identical in character. Katie is extrovert, dominant, stylish, and boy-mad, constantly overshadowing Emily whom she never misses a chance at putting down, though their relationship is more complicated than that. Emily is the more intelligent of the two, has never had a boyfriend and has strong feelings for Naomi. The sub-plot of their relationship is, for many (including me), a highlight of the series and has been widely praised for its sensitive depiction of the attraction two girls in their mid-teens have for each other. It's also linked to the relationship between the twins.
Effy (Kaya Scodelario), the only real link, apart from Pandora who didn't appear until near the end, to the previous series is now at the centre. Cool, iconic, beautiful, but not as in control as she usually seems. Her life falls apart over the course of the ten episodes.
JJ (Olly Barbieri) suffers from high-end (or should that be low-end?) Asperger's Syndrome in that he can function quite well in a social environment (though, as we find out later, he's dependent on bucket-loads of prescribed pills), but he's a long way from being normal. He's helped by his two childhood friends (see below) who generally look after him. Barbieri completely convinces in this role and, while never downplaying his problems, creates a vulnerable likeable and sympathetic character.
Cook is the character that creates the craziness and chaos and is very much the focus around which everything else revolves. Totally hedonistic, sex-mad, superhuman in his consumption of drugs and alcohol, utterly selfish without care or thought for consequences to either himself or others. Jack O'Connell has created a genuine monster whose only end would appear to be in self-destruction.
Freddie is the good-looking one the girls like, he's sensible and caring but not a little dour. You feel he should be the charismatic leader but he isn't being too self-absorbed. Luke Pasqualino seems okay in the role but it's difficult to tell because the character while not unlikeable isn't too sympathetic either. Perhaps next season will reveal more.
The role of Thomas, however, seems to have been created for the needs of the plot unlike the others who feel real. Merveille Lukeba does the best he can as the kind, charming illegal immigrant with an eye for opportunity but he still feels like a plot-device. And since writing that I watched the dvd's behind the scenes where it is revealed that, until quite late on in the production process, the character was supposed to be Polish. I rather suspect that the truth is that they only just realised they didn't have a single main character from an ethnic minority.
I'd never actually seen Skins before this series, watched the first episode and switched it off halfway through, primarily because of Cook. I only came back to it for Pandora's episode (the fourth) because I'd read it involved the l-word and that's when I became hooked by the characters. I also ordered the complete Skins box set of the first two seasons and watched them while S.3 was ongoing.
Obviously I loved it and think it's one of the British dramas in a long time, though it has its apparent weaknesses which, on reflection, just might be part of its strengths. It veers wildly from serious drama (JJ, Emily, Naomi) to wild unbelievable farce (the parody gangster in episodes 1 & 2). The Freddie-Effy-Cook triangle is less interesting than that of Katie-Emily-Naomi. I wouldn't like to say any of the cast are future stars but I do think promising careers are ahead for Lisa Backwell (if she doesn't get typecast), Olly Barbieri, and Lily Loveless.
There is a good set of extras which, again, vary wildly, particularly the behind the scenes of each episode and video diaries in character, but it's all a bit extra fun. The piece about auditioning the series has a cast of thousands but has little about those who actually succeeded, focussing instead on those who didn't. It may be a little cynical of me to think that this guarantees more than a few extra sales to the auditionees and their families.
Bonus points to Channel 4 for the releasing the box set only weeks after the series end. All media companies should do this so quickly.
Okay, now when does Skins Season 4 start?