*Spoiler alert for all series of UK television show, Skins (up to series 6, episode 6). You have been warned.
It is no secret that I am a huge fan of British television series, and the gritty and controversial drama Skins is no exception. For those who may not be familiar, Skins began in 2007 as the brain child of a father-and-son duo, Bryan Elsley and Jamie Brittain. The show’s success is often attributed to its writing team, which has an average age of 21. ¹ The show rotates its focus every two seasons to a new “generation” of eight or so teenagers attending college in Bristol as they deal with love, family, sex, drugs, mental illness, addiction, and of course, pregnancy.
I would like to engage in a critical analysis of how Skins has dealt with pregnancy in each of its three generations and what we can glean about the contemporary political and social youth climates that these plots represent. I was motivated to write about this after watching the latest episode of Skins (series 6, episode 5), which deals with a pregnancy plot in a very different way than previous series of Skins has. I also want to juxtapose Skins to a show that is often compared to it, but is different in many ways. The Canadian teenage drama Degrassi: The Next Generation also deals with rotating generations of young people and has also dealt with multiple pregnancy plots in its generations. I want to argue that Skins mostly depoliticizes its pregnancy plots while Degrassi uses them to make pedagogical moral statements.
In the first generation of Skins (series 1 & 2), we are introduced to Jal Fazer, the sensible, intelligent clarinet player. By the second series, Jal develops a friendship with the group’s goofy pill-popping party-boy, Chris. Their friendship soon develops into something more, of course, and Jal finds herself pregnant. Stressed over her audition for music college and drama within her family, Jal puts off telling even her best friend Michelle, and can’t seem to break it to Chris. We see Jal visit a pregnancy counselor, who tells her she must make a decision soon. As Jal is leaving through a waiting room full of screaming babies, we see her drop a pamphlet titled “It’s Your Abortion!” as tons of little faces look up at her. This may be the only moment that could be construed as a political scene, but I don’t think it is. Though the children are seen looking at Jal’s abortion pamphlet, Jal does not meet their eyes. She walks out defiantly, listening to distraught mothers yell at their little ones.
Later, we see Jal in her home examining her stomach in a mirror. She speaks to her reflection: “I can’t…. Can I?” She then sits on her bed and begins practicing a sad clarinet song as she begins crying. Jal later admits her pregnancy to her family, which causes her usually absent mother to show up and encourage Jal to make a choice. Then… PLOT TWIST! Jal returns to Chris’s apartment intent on telling him about her pregnancy, but finds Cassie there instead, who drags Jal with her to the hospital. Unbeknownst to Jal, Chris has inherited the same neurological disorder that killed his only brother. As Chris is falling into unconsciousness before his surgery, Jal tells him about her pregnancy, but he doesn’t hear her.
In the next episode, Cassie talks to Chris, who has just been told by Jal about her pregnancy. Chris is understanding and tells Cassie that he couldn’t be a Dad and that Jal can’t have a baby because of her music career. While the recovering Chris is being nursed back to health (with a little marijuana) by Cassie, he suffers another seizure and dies at home.
Since Skins covers so many characters, we aren’t shown exactly when or how Jal finds out about her boyfriend’s death. The next time we see her, Jal is seen being comforted by her friend Michelle. Jal admits to Michelle that she had the abortion.The gang attends Chris’s funeral and Jal makes a moving speech about him. Jal’s abortion is not spoken about again.
Jal’s pregnancy plot is interesting because a very common fan response to her abortion is a sadness that she decided not to carry Chris’s child even after his death. There is speculation that Jal has planned to keep the baby, but decided to abort after finding out about Chris’s genetic disorder. While I think these are valid responses to the emotions that the Skins writers portray in their characters, I believe that Jal would have always had an abortion. The Skins writers are generally skilled at keeping with their character development. Jal is the responsible one of the group, the one who always had future in music college. It would be out of character for Jal to do anything else.
(In the next two parts of this discussion series, I will discuss Skins pregnancy plots in generations 2 and 3 and deal with the Degrassi comparison. Stay tuned!)