Playing the “Skins” Game for Laughs

Parodies poke fun at both the show and its opponents - and MTV couldn't be happier.

In the most recent "Saturday Night Live," Andy Samberg plays the unnamed "head of programming" for MTV in a spoof of "Skins," the new teenage sex-and-drug bacchanalia that's shedding advertisers nearly as quickly as the young actors doff their clothes.

"I'm bad at my job!" Samberg declares.

MTV’s real head of programming, David Janollari, apparently couldn't be happier.

"It's always flattering when you're spoofed by 'SNL' two weeks into your series run," he told The Hollywood Reporter this week. "That's great and that really helps."

The sad thing is that he's probably right.

The show, which reportedly spurred calls for edits by MTV executives amid fears it might violate child porn laws, has inspired controversy, losing at least nine advertisers so far. Three episodes in, its latest ratings are relatively strong (1.5 million viewers), though a far cry from the premiere's 3.3 million audience.

But perhaps the strongest signs that "Skins" quickly has become part of the pop culture conversation – and might just have some staying power – are recent parodies lampooning both the show and its opponents.

The clever "SNL" skit takes aim at the advertiser exodus, re-envisioning "Skins" as a sleazy platform for product placement. The oversexed characters mix bawdy talk with pitches for modest local businesses, like a used car dealership and Kennedy Fried Chicken, whose $9 special includes "slutty mashed potatoes."

Playing far less broad is a new video on Funny or Die, which smartly pokes fun at the often-reactionary Parents Television Council's over-the-top declaration that "Skins" is “the most dangerous program that has ever been foisted on your children!”

In the video, teens are drawn to the show by the PTC's fear-mongering rhetoric.

"Thanks for telling us!" one girl declares.

"That sounds awesome!" a teen boy pipes in.

Which is exactly the reaction MTV is hoping for from young viewers.

Somewhere along the way, perhaps starting with "Jackass" and peaking with "Jersey Shore," MTV's game became leveraging controversy into ratings. In that respect, Samberg's character is wrong: Janollari does his job very well. The unfortunate byproduct is that MTV traffics too much these days in a cynical view of youth instead of tapping its power and potential of youth (more "Rock the Vote" and less Snooki would be nice).

"Skins" would be easier to take if it showed more humor, or if the attempts at laughs weren’t so forced. The characters get into potentially funny situations that could have come out of “American Pie” – the pot-filled car sinking into a lake in the premiere episode and the latest Viagra-inspired episode are a couple examples. But the bits didn't tickle us as much as they should have, possibly because it's hard at this point to care much about the characters or maybe because of the underlying sadness of the whole enterprise.

In the meantime, we'll find our laughs where we can get them. Check out these "Skins"-related parodies below:  

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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