AS SEEN ON

by Allison Levy | 1/18/11 11:00pm

While I don't particularly like MTV, I am fascinated by the ways the network has branded and re-branded itself over the years. Every time MTV redefines its image, I tune in to see if there might still be hope for the network so many members of my generation adore. The most recent example of a potentially game-changing show? "Skins," MTV's adaptation of the British high school soap, which premiered Monday night.

"Skins" is part of MTV's latest attempt to revamp its image by turning to scripted programming a product of the long-term evolution of the MTV brand. At the time of its launch in 1981, MTV was dedicated almost exclusively to airing music videos. About a decade later, the network embarked on its first foray into reality television with "The Real World." Through the '90s and '00s, MTV continued to devote much of its resources to reality and celebreality programming, ultimately striking a balance between music and reality television sometime in the early or mid-'00s. After that point, reality shows began to dominate the lineup as demand for music-related programming decreased.

Enter YouTube to put the final nail in the coffin for the MTV music video. As Dana Venerable pointed out in her column this week ("Hear and Now," Jan. 18), the Internet has made music videos more accessible, rendering shows like "TRL" obsolete. When "TRL" went off the air in 2008, viewers stopped associating MTV with music videos. Reality television was the only thing left. (That might actually be the most depressing sentence I've ever written.)

Despite the recent success of reality shows like "Jersey Shore" and "Teen Mom," MTV still had a music note-shaped void in its offerings. Reality TV does not a network make or, at least, not a good network.

Thus, in 2009, MTV decided to take a stab at scripted TV, and "Skins" is the network's most notable attempt yet. Still, if you don't enjoy current MTV offerings, it is unlikely that you will enjoy this one. Despite the new format, the show stays true to MTV's wholesome brand values. That is to say, there's a lot of drinking, a lot of drugs, a lot of sex and not a lot else.

The show follows a group of sex-crazed, party-hearty high schoolers.This premise has potential, but the American execution of the premise falls short. Instead of taking advantage of the gritty tone in order to evoke a sense of realism, "Skins" goes for shock value with unrealistic characters and plots. For the most part, these kids don't seem real. Sometimes, as in the case of protagonist Tony, they're not even likable mostly, they just seem depraved. And I'm not usually one to pass moral judgments on television characters. Admittedly, "Skins" does have its moments. It can be quite funny at times, and there are even fleeting instances when you overlook the unrealistic nature of the show and see the honest dynamic of the friend group at the show's core. But most of the time, the characters' pill-popping, alcohol-fueled, car-stealing exploits get in the way.