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Bill's 'Skins' Afterthoughts: Tea Sleeps With A Man, A Woman… And Her Grandma?

Tue, January 25, 2011 12:00pm EDT by William Earl Add first Comment

Even grandmas walk on the wild side on the show’s Jan. 24 episode!

There are a lot of things Skins does right, and “Tea,” the series’ Jan. 24 episode, showcased many of its talents. For all of its controversy, the show actually nails several aspects of high school life other series ignore, specifically the fluid nature of sexual preference amongst youth. Teens are fraught with emotion, which can make a single kiss seem earth-shattering while deadening sex itself, often with no rhyme or reason. And the titular character of this episode examined some very interesting aspects of human sexuality.

The episode opens with a blur of chaos, which only happens in Hollywood: Tea (Sofia Black D’elia) locks eyes with Betty during class, they silently agree to meet at a local lesbian bar, and the two head back to Tea’s place to have sweaty sex. Chaos continues when they wake up. After Tea plays Betty off as a study buddy to her dad, the pair have breakfast with Tea’s extended family, which is defined by a whirlwind of profanity, confusion and yelling. In fact, Betty looks more uncomfortable in the kitchen than during any part of their illicit hookup.

Betty then confronts Tea at school about their night out, and Tea dismisses her, which seems sensible given Betty is dating Bobby. But we later find out the true reason is rooted deeply in Tea’s own narcissism, which she admits to her senile grandmother: “I want the sex, but the girls I sleep with bore me. They’re catty, clingy, I dunno. It never feels enough. Is it too much to ask for someone to be interesting? I just want to feel equal.”

Little does Tea know she may have just found her match in Tony (James Newman). Never mind that he is seeing Michelle (Rachel Thevenard) — Tony and Tea head out on the town after being unknowingly arranged by their parents to go on a date. And by “on the town,” I mean get hammered on the roundabout at their local playground. Tea pukes, they have a mini dance party, and then jarringly they make out while Tony suddenly takes her (straight) virginity. She’s not a fan, but Tony seems to have shaken her, as he is the only character with as big an ego as her. Although Betty later causes a stir by publicly kissing Tea, effectively outing herself and breaking up with her boyfriend at once, Tea declines a call from the lady in her life after taking one from the man.

Hooking up may drive the plot, but action on the periphery certainly makes or breaks the episode. One of the most powerful motifs was the inclusion of Tea’s not-all-there Nana, who acted as a foil for Tea to vent to and, surprisingly, someone she could see as a role model. Their relationship took an unexpected turn when the pair accidentally slept in the same bed together and Nana revealed she was a lesbian, which gave Tea a beacon of hope in her quest for self-discovery.

Unfortunately, the show’s convoluted mob subplot nearly derailed the hour. Tea’s father is apparently a tough in an achingly stereotypical portrayal of the mafia, and that thread was the catalyst for both Tea’s date with Tony and the end of Stan’s drug dealer problems. Don’t ask how either event actually happened – they were both tremendously stupid.

Overall, “Tea” was a a giant leap in terms of this show’s appeal. Once the genuinely gut-wrenching conversations between Tea and her grandmother softened her up, Skins had to overcome its biggest hurdle — shockingly unlikeable leads. If the cast can focus on introspection more than puffed-up drugging — and drop faux-scandalous lezzy dialogue like, “You up for breakfast, or did you eat enough last night?” — it could be a contender for one of the most gripping soap operas on latenight cable.

Watch the episode below:

— William Earl