Hello and welcome to Up Next, a weekly column that gives you the rundown on the latest TV. This week, Liz Baessler takes a look at the BBC Three original series In My Skin, streaming in the US exclusively on Hulu.
In My Skin, written and created by Kayleigh Llewellyn, is a BBC Three original that first aired in Britain in 2018. On July 30th, it comes to the rest of the world (or at least America) via Hulu, who have acquired exclusive streaming rights. The show premiered to critical acclaim overseas, and if you’re looking for a short, at times devastating coming of age story, you could do far, far worse.
In My Skin isn’t perfect, but for its length, it’s quite the ride.
Made up of five 30-minute episodes, the miniseries follows Bethan (Gabrielle Creevy), a sixteen-year-old student in Wales who is struggling to keep up a facade of normalcy at school while her life at home falls apart. Her mother is bipolar, and her father is an alcoholic, but none of her teachers or even her two closest friends know, as she keeps up a constant barrage of falsehoods about an affluent and caring household. (How neither of her friends has ever actually visited her at home to find out otherwise is a bit of a mystery, but oh well).
That is the sum of Bethan’s life, and it all comes to a head in the miniseries as she earns the attention of her crush, her friends stop talking to her, and her mother suffers a breakdown, all in a couple of days.
And that’s one way in which the show suffers – its length. It’s very, very short, both in runtime and time spent in-universe. This can sometimes be a huge boon, allowing a show to tell its story without overstaying its welcome. (Fleabag comes to mind, and it’s easy to draw parallels between the two shows for a number of reasons). But if anything, In My Skin would benefit from more opportunities to make its case. Between a mother’s breakdown, a first love, a schism with friends, and a total social shakeup at school, there’s simply too many things going on at once in Bethan’s life. And with the given time-frame, it’s impossible for everything to feel worthy of attention, or to carry the same amount of weight.
The plot with her friends Lydia and Travis feels especially shunted to the side.
And that makes Bethan’s final reconciliation with them (this is a bit of a spoiler, but honestly, what high school drama doesn’t have a friend reconciliation?) fall a little flat. With everything else going on in such a short time, we see Bethan at odds with her friends more than we see them enjoying each other’s company. When they finally come back together in the end, we’re left feeling as though we’ve regained something we never really saw existing.
This reconciliation speaks to another odd element: the show’s varying tone. The series starts very strong as a gut-wrenching comedy with occasional flecks of humor. Still, then it suffers from a shift near the end into a practically full-blown comedy with hearty servings of inspiring coming of age aphorisms.
It’s funny because that’s precisely the life that Bethan is pretending so desperately to be living. When things start to go well for her, it’s hard to begrudge her this chance to get a break for once in her harrowing life. But it just doesn’t make for as riveting tv.
Another problem is the slight jumbledness in style. Sometimes Bethan narrates in her head. Sometimes she locks eyes with the camera and speaks directly to the audience. Sometimes scenes play out, only to lurch back and prove they were only in her imagination. These are all perfectly fine, but none of them happen often enough to cement themselves as narrative devices, so they all wind up feeling a bit surprising and out of place.
But while the series feels truncated and confused at times, there are plenty of elements that make it worth the two and a half-hour watch. Gabrielle Creevy is absolutely stellar as Bethan. She walks the tightrope between unasked for responsibility and desperation to be a typical teenager perfectly, turning on a dime from affected disinterest to overwhelming care and back again more times than you can count. Her relationship with her mother Katrina (Jo Hartley) is riveting, and the small moments between them, no two ever alike, are some of the best in the show.
In My Skin is far from perfect, but it has a lot going for it. The finest part of the series comes at the end of episode 3, when all the balls Bethan’s juggling end up in the air at once, and it’s evident at least some of them are going to come crashing down. It’s worth watching just for that. And for the hope that maybe, someday, it’ll get a longer second season so it can spread its wings.
In My Skin drops on Hulu on July 30th.