Brain-Dead ‘Skins’ Pushes Flesh; Newark Is ‘Brick City’: Review

The cast of "Skins." The controversial series airs Mondays on MTV at 10 p.m., New York time. Source: MTV Networks via Bloomberg

The full moon may or may not shine on Sunday’s hyped bare-butt episode of MTV’s lame high school dramedy “Skins,” but either way, the show isn’t criminal. Criminally bad? Well...

Six sponsors withdrew from “Skins” after the Parents Television Council, a self-appointed pressure group, suggested in a press release that the show might be in violation of child pornography laws. The group took aim at episode three, causing much of the faux-furor. It reputedly includes a “Porky’s”-like scene in which a gawky 15-year-old boy runs naked down a street, backside to the camera.

MTV, not typically shy about promoting its explicit programs, didn’t make the episode available to critics for screening.

But judging from the first two, “Skins” -- with its jumpy, quick-cut edits that might leave viewers thinking they’ve seen more than they actually have -- deserves jail time only for its sophomoric writing and amateurish acting.

James Newman, who plays baby-faced bad boy Tony, has the looks of an Abercrombie & Fitch model and the depth of a page from the catalogue. The others in Tony’s clique -- a hot lesbian, a skinhead jock, a nerd, among others -- are no more credible as they jump from one misadventure to the next, brawling at parties, running from drug-dealing thugs, hooking up, all while coping with parents of varying degrees of cluelessness.

No Shocks

We’re meant to be shocked by all this, but all I could see were bad actors who don’t even hold their cigarettes convincingly.

“Skins” is slang for rolling papers, making the show’s double entendre title, lifted from the original British series, as close to clever as the writing gets. Parents unsettled by the sex and drugs can take heart in the recent drop in viewership. Kids, at least the ones off screen, are smarter than we think.

“Skins” airs Mondays on MTV at 10 p.m. New York time. Rating: *

‘Brick City’

Forget that Jersey show down the shore. Newark is the city to watch, as the second season of the Sundance Channel’s irresistible documentary series “Brick City” begins Sunday.

Marc Levin and Mark Benjamin produced and directed this unflinching look at urban America, with Forest Whitaker as executive producer. They were given remarkable access to magnetic mayor Cory Booker. They also spend time with polarizing top cop Garry McCarthy and various residents making their way in a tough city and tougher economy.

With shootings down but murder rates rising -- a dichotomy explained in part by the high-capacity ammo rounds that can make each shooting more deadly -- Newark officials are as embattled as anyone on “The Wire.” But it’s the city’s marginal folk who make “Brick City” so engrossing.

Jayda and her boyfriend Creep are former members of opposing street gangs who have opened a non-profit mentoring center while struggling with their own legal problems.

Even more compelling is Dashaun “Jiwe” Morris, a former gang member whose fledgling success as an author could be for naught as he faces a trial for attempted murder.

Morris’ storyline -- was it self-defense? -- promises to keep the six-episode series a must-watch, not least because of his attorney, Brooke Barnett. Beautiful, fierce as any Soprano and with a framed photo of Barbra Streisand adorning her desk, Barnett would be too much for belief in a scripted drama (“I love men, I love women,” she says. “I don’t believe in any of those labels.”) But this is “Brick City,” as real it gets.

“Brick City” airs Sundays on the Sundance Channel at 8 p.m. New York time. Rating: *** 1/2

‘The Lost Valentine’

The sap runs deep in “The Lost Valentine,” a CBS Hallmark Hall of Fame TV-movie airing Sunday. Betty White (co-starring with Jennifer Love Hewitt) plays a woman who returns every year to the train station where she waved goodbye to her Valentine-clutching G.I. husband back in World War II. Why she thinks he’ll return on February 14 no doubt has less to do with logic than the sponsor’s marketing skills. Nevertheless, you’d have to be cold as January not to be moved by White’s performance when she finally learns what really happened to her soldier boy all those years ago.

“The Lost Valentine” airs Sunday on CBS at 9 p.m. New York time. Rating: **

What the Stars Mean:

****        Excellent
***         Good
**          Average
(No stars)  Worthless

(Greg Evans is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

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