I’m subscribed to the BBC on YouTube, so I occasionally poke around when they upload series clips; this is how I discovered This Country, The Young Offenders, even Normal People, and (most recently) In My Skin. I have to admit, the clips don’t always give a huge amount of context for American viewers who don’t have access to these programs before they hit US shores, and so sometimes my expectations are completely off.
In My Skin was definitely like that; I’d seen a few clips and just assumed it was going to be your standard misfits-about-town type vibe. When I found out it was coming to Hulu, I took a minute to properly ready the description, and I understood there was going to be some dark comedy-drama involved, but I was actually (weirdly pleasantly) surprised at how heavy it ended up being.
That’s not to say there aren’t some funny bits sprinkled in, but series creator Kayleigh Llewellyn (who drew on her own childhood experiences in the script) did well not to diminish the plight of main character, Welsh teenager Bethan Gwyndaf (Gabrielle Creevy). And when I say plight, I mean plight. Her mom struggles to cope with bipolar disorder and (when not in hospital) frequently wanders off into town making a scene. The situation is not helped by Bethan’s deadbeat dad, an alcoholic biker who can’t be bothered to do much of anything unless it involves boozing or looking at porn. The bills often go unpaid, the house is a state…it’s an all-around mess.
Ashamed of her situation, Bethan has fabricated an elaborate web of lies to paint her family out as posh (and high-functioning); she’s been doing this since she was eight, and by now she’s an absolute master of deceit. Even her two best friends (fellow misfits Lydia and Travis) have bought into these stories about houses in Italy and mandatory trips to the ballet.
One lie she hasn’t had such an easy time concealing is about her sexuality; she denies being queer, but it’s pretty clear from the get-go that she’s madly in love with her popular classmate Poppy. (Even the school gym teacher, a lesbian, sits Bethan down for a chat after she overhears the other kids’ near-constant name-calling at school.)
Being a teenager is an undertaking in and of itself, but she’s got a fucking LOT to deal with on top of that, and she’s doing it completely on her own. There are multiple opportunities to reach out for help from someone besides her nan (who’s a good egg, but as the mother of Bethan’s father, not the best resource), including instances where teachers ask directly if everything is okay at home; Bethan could soar academically if she would apply herself, but obviously she’s got bigger fish to fry at the moment.
And so she keeps it all carefully bottled up. (That’s a lot of weight to carry. I speak from personal experience as a former closet queer and the daughter of an alcoholic biker deadbeat. A much gentler/kinder one than Bethan’s, but still.)
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all doom and gloom, but even when Bethan is having a good day, you always get the sense the other shoe is about to drop. And many times, it does. But that’s what Llewellyn gets so right about the whole experience; when your life is like that, full of burdens and lies and shame, it is very difficult to relax and just live. And that’s why the title is so genius, because the show does what it says – it puts you (or at least it put me) very much in Bethan’s skin.
I believe there’s going to be a second season (at least I hope there is, because it ended on a cliffhanger), but either way, a very strong batch of episodes that I highly recommend checking out.
*As a disclaimer, I don’t feel like anyone should have too big a problem understanding the Welsh accent, but I also didn’t think anyone would have issues with the Northern Irish one in Derry Girls, and yet I was wrong. There are obviously subtitles if you need them for extra clarity, but some of the words are incorrect, just as a heads up! Ex: “Calippo”, which is a freeze pop, is translated as “Clif Bar”.
**One more Welsh-specific note // in one of the episodes Bethan is fixing a meal for her mom, and before she starts cooking asks, “Want some faggots?” Before you go all, “WHAT DID SHE SAY?!” faggots are what meatballs are called in Wales. More on that here!