The return of Skins for a seventh series of specials that gets us caught up with three of the characters from the first two generations of the show is such an unusual decision by E4 that it has drawn me back into a drama that I tuned out of back in Series 5. The notion of not only getting to watch the characters but the show itself really grow up is more intriguing than I'd expected it to be and, for the most part, "Fire" shows that Skins might just be able to live up to that promise.
These first two episodes focus on Effy Stonem (Kaya Scodelario), a character who was defined by her mysteriousness throughout the early portion of the show and then became part of a misconceived love triangle before Skins began to examine her psychological issues. Despite never being as developed as others, Scodelario has always made her someone that is fascinating to watch and that trait remains here as we see where she's ended up in life.
Clearly, it's tough to comprehend how Effy moved on from the traumatic events in Series 4 and became stable and successful enough to land a job as an assistant at a hedge fund in London. Nevertheless, that is what has happened and I do commend the show for not bothering to explain why things are the way they are. Too much exposition would've been dull and it's compelling to watch something concerned with the present more than the past.
Effy's struggle here is all about performing well at work and doing her best to be recognised for the effort that she is putting in. One of my issues with this hour is the leaps it has to take in order to make her so good at a job she has virtually no experience with. I'm sorry Skins, but that rooftop montage in which Effy learns all the secrets of finance is hardly convincing. I'm hoping that the second part is daring enough to undercut her sudden fortuitous rise in the workplace.
However, the show does benefit from a darker outlook and I like how Effy's attraction to danger is expressed in her fraudulent actions. The aesthetic of Skins translates wonderfully to London too, and this episode really looks stunning. It's very involving, featuring marvellous use of colour and examples of inventive camerawork.
There are also many aspects of Effy's development that work surprisingly well. The story doesn't feel particularly original, but the central character is easy to root for and she appears to need to make certain choices to stay ahead. Her situation is definitely presented as one where she's stuck at a certain level in her job and needs to make a drastic change to stick around. (Sherlock's Lara Pulver also plays a supporting role as Victoria, who serves as an effective comparison with Effy.) By the end, it's clear she's taken it too far and that things will become more complex next week.
Effy is also living with Naomi (Lily Loveless), who is going through her own set of issues when it comes to finding her way in the world. Once again, it's not easy to see how the two would end up being roommates but it's not dwelt upon and it doesn't need to be. Skins did so much fantastic work back in Series 3 building the romance between Naomi and Emily (Kat Prescott) that when it turned painfully messy in the following year, fans didn't react particularly well. I remain invested in the characters and their relationship, though, and while the twist at the end of this episode is a cruel one, it is also an important story to tell and should provide some meaningful territory to explore in the second part.
If you're coming to the seventh series of Skins expecting it to be anything like the original show, there's a real chance that you'll be incredibly disappointed. Drugs and parties aren't what this version of Skins is about. Its characters have grown up and the teen drama has matured accordingly. The show always displayed a willingness to adapt to the character whose story it was telling and it'll be interesting to watch how the tone varies as we switch to the other characters within these six episodes.
The first part of "Fire" has done enough to grab my attention and it still feels like Skins. It's a different show but it remains an engaging one, with a focal character receiving development that she's deserved and a story that has the potential to make for very rewarding drama. There are callbacks to the previous series (for instance, it won't be lost on fans that Effy's boss looks a bit like Freddie) but this is really concerned with exploring how certain individuals are dealing with growing into adults in a challenging environment. It's surprisingly decent television and I'm looking forward to seeing where it goes in the second installment.