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Tomorrow night marks the debut of a show with an actual script and paid actors on MTV.

And as happy as we are that MTV actually invested in a scripted show instead of paying kids for their questionable behavior (see ‘Teen Mom’ and ‘Jersey Shore’), this one still has us a little concerned.

MTV is taking a sharp right turn from its reality programming with “Skins,” an adaptation of a hit British series that plays like “The Wire” for teens.

The series, co-produced by the father-and-son team of Bryan Elsley and his young adult son, Jamie Brittain, presents adolescents without a Hollywood sheen or a parental filter. It shows teens getting high and drunk and having less-than-advisable sex because that’s what many teenagers do.

A runaway hit in Britain and the winner of the British Emmy for best drama in 2008, “Skins” is entering its fifth season on E4. The US series, handled solely by Elsley while his son shepherds the UK version, is MTV’s first shot at bringing scripted drama to the network, after launching several highly successful teen-targeted reality series, including “Jersey Shore,” “16 and Pregnant” and “Teen Mom.”

The content could be considered raunchy, but it’s all there for a reason. “I reflect the lives of those upon whom my show is based,” says the soft-spoken and serious Elsley. “I’m one of those parents who, when my kids were teenagers assured me that they never had sex or drank or did drugs, would brag to my friends, but my kids were not different. They were doing all of that, too.”

There is nudity and sex, but it’s not graphic. And there is very little bad language.

“It doesn’t seem like that much of a sacrifice,” says Elsley. “There are a few bleeps scattered through the American show. In the UK show, we got bored with seeing naked people very quickly.”

Not surprisingly, the cast, mostly amateurs, is young and gorgeous. James Newman plays the show’s central character, Tony, a baby-faced master manipulator. Like men many years his elder, he simultaneously adores and cheats on his girlfriend, Michelle (Rachel Thevenard), and he convinces his friends to participate in one disastrous scheme or another, without Tony ever taking responsibility for any of it.

“James has a curious mixture of confidence and shyness, which is reflected in Tony,” says Elsley. “Tony is the center of everything, he’s slightly brittle and his grip over his friends is not complete.”
The frequent victim of Tony’s schemes is Stanley (Daniel Flaherty), a ne’er-do-well who lacks the confidence to stand up to his best friend.

Audiences get to know each of these characters very well, due to the series’ unique way of telling its stories: each episode focuses on an individual character, while its main story threads are woven through.

MTV admits that it’s taking a big risk on “Skins.” “This show has the potential to galvanize our audience much like our reality shows do,” says David Janollari, executive vice president and head of MTV programming. “Our young audience doesn’t tolerate fakery, and this show speaks to them.”

So: is this show a good opportunity for parents to open the dialog with their kids about what’s really going on with them today? Or is this just another example of the media pushing kids to grow up too fast?

Check out a full breakdown of the show here




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