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TV Review: 'Skin' bares nothing new

Sunday, October 19, 2003

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

It comes as no surprise that of all the TV networks, Fox is the first to set a prime-time drama in the world of pornography. "Skin" is certainly not a CBS show.

"Skin"

When: 9 p.m. tomorrow on Fox.
Starring: Ron Silver, Kevin Anderson.

And yet, this program isn't nearly as tawdry as jaded viewers expect or Fox executives might wish. In fact, for a show about a sexy subject, it's oddly uninvolving, possibly because -- backdrop aside -- viewers have seen it all before.

At the root, it's a re-telling of William Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," as two young lovers from rival families try to make their relationship work despite their buttinski parents.

At a party, Adam (D.J. Corona) meets Jewel (Olivia Wilde) underwater in a pool. Soon the sopping-wet pair are fleeing from Jewel's sort-of boyfriend in his borrowed car. They go for coffee and chat long into the night about their lives and the feelings of hope at the start of a relationship.

"It's like buying a CD," Adam says, "you know, 'cause you like the cover and you hope when you listen to it, it will be ..."

"Perfect," Jewel says, completing his sentence.

Yes, it's more dewey-eyed teen love, but "Skin" is not "The O.C." With "Skin" -- from "CSI"/"Without a Trace" overseer Jerry Bruckheimer -- Fox Entertainment president Gail Berman declared, "We've got the backdrop of a big sweeping drama on our hands. ... 'The O.C.' is a much less ambitious canvas."

She's right, but "The O.C.," returning Wednesday at 9 p.m., is a heck of a lot more fun. Where "Skin" is dark and brooding, "The O.C." is fluffy-light with hints of comedy.

Adam and Jewel are star-crossed by the careers of their fathers. Adam's dad, Thomas Roam (Kevin Anderson, "Nothing Sacred"), is the Los Angeles district attorney. Jewel's dad, Larry Goldman (Ron Silver), is CEO of Golden Intl., the most successful producer of adult entertainment in the world.

Roam is running a re-election campaign and, putting a crimp in his son's love life, decides to make pornography a linchpin of his campaign after a child is kidnapped by a pedophile who downloaded kiddie porn from a Web site that rented space on a Golden-owned computer server.

Goldman gets arrested at a charity function, embarrassing him and his family, which gives him a grudge against Roam.

Adam has his own misgivings about his father, who always seems to put his career before family. It doesn't help that Adam's mother, Laura (Rachel Ticotin), is a judge with political ambitions for both her and her husband ("You have to understand, we're a public family," she says).

"My dad's on the news every night," Adam complains to Jewel. "Half the city loves him and half the city hates him, and I don't know what side I'm on."

Jewel's father has his own sleazy moments, meeting a business associate in a strip club and parading the stars of his movies into a business meeting.

"Ladies, we are about to do a very, very lucrative deal," he tells porn stars as they parade down a long conference room table surrounded by visiting executives. "I think these gentlemen are entitled to full disclosure, so, at your leisure, disclose."

Then pieces of clothing begin to drop to the table top, but "Skin" is all about suggestion, not about showing any naughty bits.

In the midst of the Roam family scheming and the Goldman family sexing, two crazy kids just want some time to themselves. They're both good, responsible kids, chaste even (well, at least until the end of the premiere episode -- this is Fox, after all).

A second episode sent for review shows even more dramatically the schism between the teens' story and the adults' story.

"I love you," Jewel tells Adam.

"I love you more," Adam tells Jewel.

These ooey-gooey scenes -- followed by petty bickering and then makeup hugs -- stand out when cobbled together with scenes of Roam and Goldman plotting one another's downfalls. The adults' story gets one nice twist at the end of episode two, but otherwise, you're watching two egomaniacs play chess.

Roam is revealed to be a Democrat, and "Skin" works overtime to paint him as an overzealous, opportunistic politician. Despite his being a porn king, the second episode of "Skin" takes great pains to humanize Goldman, showing him turning down a fresh-off-the-bus-from-South-Dakota teen who wants a career in porn. He even volunteers to pay for her plane ticket back to the sticks.

In addition to politics, Fox's Berman said, "Skin" will explore race relations in Los Angeles -- Roam's wife is Hispanic -- but so far that hasn't happened.

Aside from seeming overly familiar, another reason this Fox drama fails to get under my skin is its premise, which seems difficult to sustain. After all, how long can the grudge match stalemate between the dueling dads stay interesting? And if the Romeo and Juliet story feels old by the second episode -- and we know they're not going to contemplate suicide, at least not until sweeps -- why would soap fans keep coming back for more?


You can reach Rob Owen at 412-263-2582 orrowen@post-gazette.com . Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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