Lots of controversy has been brewing around the new teen drama “Skins” on MTV. I think the problem here is a lack of good storytelling. The three crucial elements of any good story is 1) want, 2) need and 3) price. Dramas that don’t work most often don’t attach a price to the choices a character makes. Unless there is a cost, the action doesn’t feel urgent or compelling. The higher the cost, the more intense the story and the emotional journey.
What a character wants is a clear and simple ego-driven goal. It is something he or she can physically have or obtain. It is clear. It is simple. It is concrete. It is specific– The booze, the drugs, the girl, the party invitation. The want is a finite object of a character’s personal desire. It is something tangible that would gratify or benefit a character personally and immediately.
What a character needs is an inner ache or yearning that a character is unaware of, denies, suppresses or ignores. It is a deeper, more abstract or intangible basic human longing. It is not physical or concrete. It is an emotional satisfaction that enriches the character more deeply– to be accepted for who you are, to be intimate with someone in a meaningful way, to find joy or to connect with someone in a true and authentic manner.
To embrace the need, a character must abandon specific selfish or self-centered goals and address more fundamental and far-reaching human concerns. Every great story ever told since the beginning of time is about the war between the things of the world (the satisfaction of the ego by obtaining worldly trophies, prizes or thrills) and the things of the heart, the soul and the spirit (the deeper satisfaction of embracing our essential humanity).
What is the cost of obtaining the want or object of desire? What is the cost of embracing the need and living up to one’s highest, truest, most authentic values? Which price is a character willing to pay? What is a character willing to sacrifice or surrender to obtain the want or embrace the need? The tougher the choice is, the better the story. If choices isn’t expensive– if there are no expensive consequences– a character’s actions seem episodic and gratuitous.
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David Carr writing in the Business and Media section of the New York Times put it this way:
Now that MTV is back on its heels, you will hear arguments that “Skins” merely describes the world that we already live in. There’s something to that. MTV didn’t invent “friends with benefits,” oral sex as the new kiss or stripper chic as a teenage fashion aspiration. And MTV didn’t employ the teenage star that posed semi-nude in Vanity Fair; the Disney Channel is the one in business with Miley Cyrus.
But when you hear talk about how innovative and daring “Skins” is — and you will —that argument is no more credible than the one made by the stoned teenager out after curfew. “Skins” is pretty much a frame-by-frame capture of a British hit. “Kids,” the film by director Larry Clark, plowed the same seamy ground back in 1995. (And films, at least, are more regulated: “Kids” initially received an NC-17 rating, which meant that some of the youngsters who were in the film could not legally see it.)
“Skins” is nothing new, only a corporate effort to clone a provocative drama that will make MTV less dependent on reality shows and add to the bottom line. True, MTV is not alone. Abercrombie & Fitch built a brand out of writhing, half-naked teenagers, as Calvin Klein once did.
But since its inception, MTV has pushed this boundary as hard as any major media company ever has and may have finally crossed a line that will be hard to scramble back across. The self-described “Guidos” and “Guidettes” of “Jersey Shore,” MTV’s breakout hit, have probably already set some kind of record for meaningless sex.
(More questionably, MTV exported the show to some countries with the tagline, “Get Juiced,” a clear reference to the obvious steroid use on the show.)
But while Snooki & Co. may act like children, they can legally drink alcohol and give consent to what might ensue: the age of 21 may seem like an arbitrary distinction but it’s an important one and, besides, it’s the law.
Even in the most scripted reality programming, the waterfall of poor personal choices is interrupted by comeuppance. People get painful hangovers, the heartbreaks are real if overly dramatic and the cast members have to live with their decisions.
Not so on “Skins,” where a girl who overdoses and is rushed to the hospital wakes up to laughter when the stolen S.U.V. taking her there slams to a halt. Teenagers show children how to roll blunts, bottles of vodka are traded on merry go-rounds, and youngsters shrug off being molested and threatened by a drug dealer. And when the driver of the stolen S.U.V. gets distracted and half a dozen adolescents go rolling into a river, the car is lost but everyone bobs to the surface with a smile at the wonder of it all.
Any adults on “Skins” are of the Charlie Brown variety, feckless beings who are mostly heard off-screen making bummer noises. MTV leaves it to real-life parents to explain that sometimes, when a car goes underwater, nobody survives and that a quick hookup with cute boy at the party may deliver a sexually transmitted disease along with a momentary thrill.
Read the full article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/24/business/media/24carr.html?_r=1&scp=3&sq=Skins%20+%20MTV&st=cse