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Lessons From Skins: Not All Sex Sells

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Not all sex sells. That appears to be the takeaway from the first—and quite possibly last—season of Skins, MTV’s controversial remake of the libertine British favorite.

While the network mopped up some of the excess vodka and vomit, it retained plenty of the original's salaciousness and hasn't been coy about flaunting it. Promotional stills evoked an after-party bacchanal at an American Apparel shoot, with glassy-eyed, scantily clad teens draped over one another, hands roaming. Trailers alone provoked the PTC outburst that crescendoed into cries of child pornography.

Those same complaints doubtless prompted some viewers of the Jersey Shore finale to stick around for the premiere of Skins, but initial ratings of 3.3 million slumped to a season average of 1.4 million, the network now concedes. Despite a slight rise for the closing episode, what began with a bang has gone out with a whimper, making you wonder whether teen sex today mightn't be exactly how you remember it after all.

While its slutty shenanigans failed to woo viewers and critics, they did get blue-chip sponsors uncomfortably hot and bothered. In the wake of the show-stealing exodus led by Taco Bell and General Motors, games manufacturers and movie studios have filled the majority of its advertising spots.

Of course, Skins’ sexual content turned out to be explicitly unerotic. Take, for instance, that much-discussed shot of underage actor Jesse Carere’s character, Chris, running buck naked down a suburban street. His chemically sustained—and off-camera—erection epitomizes the disconnect between these kids and their fledgling sexuality. What it does not do is glamorize teen sex. That’s something in which shows using actors who are pushing 30, and who bring to their roles all the knowingness of their older years, seems far more complicit.

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