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Attention MTV Producers: How Not to Screw Up Skins

My So-Called Life. Degrassi. Gossip Girl. Freaks and Geeks. These are among the classics of high-school misbehavior television. And even though we grew out of lockers and detention years ago, we still can’t get enough of it. That may be why we’ve developed a killer Netflix addiction to Skins, the British series that launched Slumdog star Dev Patel’s career and may provide the harshest, most uncompromising view of teenage life we’ve ever seen on TV.

Now, MTV is launching a stateside version of the series. Is this good news or bad news? Honestly, we’re not sure yet.

As PopWatch points out, it’s hard to imagine Skins integrating seamlessly into American programming: “Much of the show’s cast and writing crew are actual teenagers with little-to-no TV experience; the cast is mercilessly rebooted every two seasons with an entirely new crop of fresh faces; each episode of the show focuses on a different character; and there aren’t neat moral repercussions for bad behavior.” We also fear that a post-Daria MTV is no longer quirky or creative enough to make, for instance, a surprisingly poignant season-finale montage of all the show’s characters singing Cat Stevens’ “Wild World” work.

But instead of further poking holes and being negative, we’ve come up with 10 things we want out of MTV’s Skins. We hope the producers are reading.

1. Actors that are actually teenagers
We grew up on 90210, but did anyone ever believe Luke Perry as high-school student? If the show is supposed to represent the lives of real 16 year olds, then casting seasoned, 25-year-old actors to play them will destroy the series’ credibility before it even launches.

2. Young writers
Instead of having a team of seasoned, middle-aged scribes scour YouTube and MySpace to try and figure out what the kids are into, hire writers who are actually connected to youth culture. You want authenticity? That’s how to get it.

3. Don’t just cast supermodels
Skins is not Gossip Girl. The British version follows a largely working-class group of kids that, while generally somewhat attractive, don’t have the kind of faces you’d expect to see on the cover of Vogue.

4. No after-school specials
The British version of Skins is as cruel and random and unsentimental as high-school life itself. Characters are more likely to continue on a self-destructive path until they reach a breaking point than learn an unforgettable lesson, and the touching moments are few and far between. There should be no such thing as a “very special episode” of Skins.

5. Parents (and other adults) shouldn’t know best
As in real life, the parents, teachers, and other grownups on Skins are far from perfect. In fact, they’re often even more screwed up than their hapless kids.

6. Don’t make sex a moral issue
The show, like the last few years of most teenagers’ high-school careers, is all about sex. Who has it, who wants it, who isn’t particularly interested in it… but, thankfully, Skins has always avoided endorsing the slut/stud double standard or really judging its characters in any way for their carnal conduct. (Of course, infidelity, manipulation, and other romantic no-nos are a different issue and fair game.) MTV producers: Please, please don’t insist on punishing kids for having sex, be it casual or committed.

7. Don’t pathologize drug use
There are a lot of drugs on Skins: tons of weed, some prescriptions for making it through daily life, and fancier pills for partying. This, too, like it or not, is a normal part of teen life. We’re not saying it’s something to be celebrated. But the implication that any kid who consumes any kind of illegal drug does it because they’re deeply messed up is tired, unfair, and plain wrong — and it’s an implication the British version of the show is careful to avoid.

8. Change the cast every two years
We can all name shows about high-school kids that followed their characters too far into adult life: Saved by the Bell: The College Year, anyone? 90210? The British Skins brings in a new group of teens every few years to keep things fresh and avoid pushing character arcs past their expiration date.

9. Make sure your gay character is confident in his sexuality and (mostly) accepted by his peers
The coming-out crisis episode is so ’90s that it’s become an anachronism. These days, while it’s still not easy to be a gay teen in many parts of America, it’s not like teenage homosexuality is a new thing for pop culture.

10. Realize that mean girls and the popularity wars have been done to death
The original Skins takes place within a group of friends. The clique’s and individuals’ places in the school social hierarchy aren’t important to the show, nor is the overplayed drama of girls hazing girls and who gets to be prom queen. Instead of pretending that popularity is the alpha and omega of teenage life, the show focuses on subtler dynamics of friendship, family, romance, and growing up.

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