Posts Tagged ‘Skins (UK) 2009’

Will You Dance With Me?

November 10, 2009

“I was wondering… did… uh…uh…do you want to go to the homecoming dance with me?” As the camera frames Sam’s innocent face, the viewer lingers on to his each and every stutter instantly reminding one’s self of one’s own battles with schoolyard insecurities.  The viewer is instantly brought back to the days of fanciful crushes and the hallway hellos, but as the silence between Sam and Cindy becomes more deafening, the viewer also remembers the times that those crushes crashed and those hellos went unsaid.  As Sam’s hopeful eyes gaze into the possibility of acceptance, we too painfully remember those same feelings of desperation.  After all, the viewers know all too well that Sam is not really looking to go to the dance per-se, for what he is really looking for is confirmation of his existence in the social hell some deem to call high school.  Sam is looking for acceptance, belonging, love, and self-confidence, but he is fruitlessly searching for a happiness that is simply out of his league, and as a result it does not come as a shock to anyone (except perhaps to Sam) that Cindy already has a date to the dance.  In other words, it does not come as a shock that Cindy, the popular cheerleader, has in fact been confirmed within the social order.  But why must we watch this same sad tale over and over again?  This story of unrequited teenage love is not only prevalent in Freaks and Geeks, but also in My So-Called Life and Skins as well.  Moreover if it is so painful for one to watch (and I do not think I am the only one that cringed at Sam’s question) why do we keep on watching the same sad woe in coming of age stories?

As we watch stories like this unfold, we like to see ourselves as the sage and superior onlookers, but are we actually sage or superior to little Sam?  Moreover, do we ever actually come of age or do we perpetually remain underdogs?  Perhaps we continue to watch the same sad story of the defeated, because we will always associate with the underdog, and thus we watch for the day that David actually does defeat Goliath.  This hope that love will indeed conquer all, even for the weak, is what permits us watch Brian Krakow, of My So-Called Life, make as ass of himself in front of his neighbor and crush, Angela Chase.  This hope is what draws us to sickly, lonely Cassie as she approaches Sid longing to find someone that actually cares about her.  Thus, we see Cassie, Brian, and Sam as character extensions of ourselves, and consequently these fictional victories in the battlefield of love are internalized as our own as well.  As Jason Mittell states in his essay on “Narrative Complexity in Contemporary American Television,” one the chief pleasures in shows like Lost “is the show’s ability to create sincere emotional connections to characters” no matter what kind of outlandish activities or predicaments the characters may have gotten themselves into (Mittell, 38).  This is the type of emotional appeal that connects viewers to the show and has them coming back season after season, for the viewers genuinely want to see characters like Sam land his first date and finally have someone to dance his slow dance with prevailing over the social order.

TV is Better than Film? nah, just different

November 10, 2009

What’s the difference between a two-hour long coming of age film and a narratively complex multi-season coming of age television series? No matter what the subject matter, there will always be some clichéd sentimentality involved with a coming of age film; there will always be some glossed-over layer of detail or plot. For in order to present a narrative with a two-hour time limit one must discard the minutia, always so important to growing up, in favor of broader details. However, a coming of age series does not have to discard the minutia. Trying to understand the minutia, trying to sort out its causes and effects on individual characters or larger narrative arcs, can even be, as Mittell contends, one of the main attractions of narratively complex television (Narrative Complexity in Contemporary American Television, pg 11).

Thus, my delight in the tragic completeness of Sayra’s story in Sin Nombre (2009, dir. Cary Joji Fukunaga) cannot compare to my interest in Cassie’s story, as introduced in Skins Season 1, Episode 2. Having just seen the episode – any of Skins – for the first time, I am left with myriad questions about Cassie and her relationship with food, the clinic, her parents and sibling, the group of kids she woke up with the morning after the party. The end of the episode didn’t even bring much closure to these questions. Just as Cassie is surrounded by food she doesn’t eat – but that everyone wants her to – the answers to these questions are held tantalizingly concealed within the next episode… and the next and the next. Whereas the beauty of Sayra’s story comes from its closed form, from the fact that any question left open-ended must now be imagined outside the boundaries of very film that birthed it – the beauty of Cassie’s story comes from its open form, its intent to continue.

I was completely absorbed in Sayra’s story and the almost physical narrative pull of Sin Nombre. But after two hours, the film was done. The story was over. I think that it is a basic human reaction – what kid doesn’t say this? – to ask what’s next, to want to know what happens after the story is over. What does “happily ever after” really mean, after all? Narratively complex television is gaining such success as a mass art form because it creates a what next, the story can keep going. And in that continuation we rediscover the minutia we thought we’d lost in the film, maybe even lost  in the novel.