Davina Jackson walks out of a drug store with the Sensitive Skin title appearing on screen

Review: Sensitive Skin proves bitching about growing old isn’t fun for anyone

C+

Sensitive Skin may think it’s the smartest little thing on TV, but the truth is it can come across as a rather agonizing and pretentious mess. As a comedy primarily focused on middle-aged people doing what middle-aged people do best (have mid-life crises, bitch endlessly about growing old and hold strange, deep resentment toward younger people), it’s as miserable of a concept as you could imagine for a TV show. To make matters worse, it’s also executed in a way that’s nearly as appallingSensitive Skin is actually a remake of a nearly decade old highly acclaimed BBC Two series, and after seeing the Canadian version, I have to wonder how the original was so well received.

The overly quiet scenes and at times nails-on-a-chalkboard-like characters are probably what those behind the program feel set it apart as high-class and sophisticated television, but in practice, it just makes the show rather cold, unwelcoming and irritating. It doesn’t help that Sensitive Skin also falls into the premium cable series trap of not making itself immediately clear if it wants to be a comedy, a drama or some weird suspension between the two.

Don't worry, this dog isn't dead, he's just high on crack (screenshot via hbocanada.com)

Don’t worry, this dog isn’t dead, he’s just high on crack (screenshot via hbocanada.com)

It becomes more obvious as the episode progresses that the series is a comedy, and for better or worse, Sensitive Skin is less manufactured than a network TV sitcom, as you might assume. There aren’t really any belly laughs here, the humour comes at you subtly. It’s more in line with that funny thing that happened at the supermarket yesterday opposed to something out of a Cosby Show rerun. However, it still has its moments. I mean a dog high on crack has to be worth something, right?

Since this is a Canadian series, chances are it’s going to be set in Toronto and there’s going to be at least one Anne Murray reference during its run. This one is no exception. It’s unabashedly set in Toronto. You’ll spot TTC streetcars, the CN Tower and Toronto Sun boxes during the debut episode, and Anne Murray’s “Snowbird” is featureda lot. If you didn’t hate Anne Murray before watching Sensitive Skin, you sure will after.

The character Al (Don McKellar) has to suffer through Anne Murray’s “Snowbird” as he’s a reviewer. Why a nearly 45-year-old song? According to the script, it’s because there’s a new box set of her songs coming out, however, why’d the writer, Bob Martin (the two of you who watched Michael: Tuesdays and Thursdays may remember him as David on that show, he also appears on Sensitive Skin as Sam) choose “Snowbird”? Maybe he wants to set off the homicidal impulses of everyone watching at home. Perhaps Martin wants to show off some sort of bullshit theoretical meaning he has about the song. Another possibility is that it’s just in the show because “Snowbird” is as Canadian as maple syrup or hockey, or maybe it’s because the juxtaposition between the characters and the song was too great to pass up. I’m going to go with the homicidal impulses one. The fact Al had to sift through that overrated, miserable CanCon crap “Snowbird” to write a review reminded me of, well, me, Sensitive Skin and the review you’re reading right now.

Davina's having a doozie of a mid-life crisis considering that weird couch and the pot smoking (screenshot via hbocanada.com)

Davina’s having a doozie of a mid-life crisis, considering that weird couch and the pot smoking (screenshot via hbocanada.com)

Al, in the larger scope of things is really a diversion. The show seems more based around Kim Cattrall’s character Davina Jackson, Al’s wife. That’s not entirely unexpected—I mean she is Kim Cattrall after all, Ms. Sex in the City herself. Davina is the epitome of a mid-life crisis at its worst. She’s taking drugs to feel younger, lashes out at anyone who says anything about age and bought a ridiculous looking couch, pretty much just for the hell of it to feel young when there were plenty of practical couches available. However, between Davina’s insecurity and Al eating all his words by speaking quickly under his breath, the characters are enough to make you bang your head against a wall.

Where do I even start with this scene? (screenshot via hbocanada.com)

Where do I even start with this scene? (screenshot via hbocanada.com)

It’s hard to come up with a definitive verdict for Sensitive Skin. The show does seem like it’s trying to be different and that does deserve some credit. You definitely won’t mix up the series with some piece of crap, run-of-the-mill, completely brain-dead sitcom you seem to spot on CBS every season. Sensitive Skin is clearly finely tuned and well thought out, it’s just what they came up with wasn’t that enjoyable. You also have to consider that writing pilots is hard, remarkably hard, especially for sitcoms. Introducing the characters to an audience while being funny, and in Sensitive Skin‘s case, trying to do it differently, is difficult if not nearly impossible to do flawlessly. There’s also the nagging thought in the back of my head telling me there’s a chance the show can overcome the problems in the first few episodes when the writers and actors get more accustomed to what they’re working with.

Sensitive Skin certainly isn't the sexiest show on TV (screenshot via hbocanada.com)

Sensitive Skin certainly isn’t the sexiest show on TV (screenshot via hbocanada.com)

Despite that, I doubt the series could find a large, devoted audience as Sensitive Skin is a lot like Bran Flakes. It’s something clearly for older people and supposedly good for you, but liking it is another thing. Bran Flakes gives you fibre, Sensitive Skin makes you think, as there’s a lot of symbolism in the show and thought put into the characters (even though they’re almost as annoying as can be). Bran Flakes and Sensitive Skin are also boring, drab and unexciting. They simply can’t compare with Fruit Loops or The Big Bang Theory. The problem with Bran Flakes is its taste; Sensitive Skin’s problem is its concept. Having people constantly bitch about getting old doesn’t make for great TV unfortunately, especially when you have young people goofing off on nearly every other channel on the dial.

Funny enough, Sensitive Skin is a lot like what we’d have if we took all those hip young people in the city shows from the 90s like Seinfeld, Ellen and Friends, sucked the life out of them (including their laugh tracks) and followed the characters into their 50s when they’re still doing nothing and haven’t made much of themselves. It’s that depressing and it’s quite maddening actually.

Episode Reviewed: The Other Davina
Sensitive Skin aired on HBO Canada

(Featured Image: Screenshot via hbocanada.com)

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