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If it’s a Brit, the TV show’s a hit

‘skins’ ★★★

9 to 10 p.m. Mondays on MTV


8 to 9 p.m. Mondays on Syfy

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

On Showtime’s “Episodes,” it’s scientifically proven that jokes are funnier in an English accent. An actor plays a scene as a Brit, and it kills. He tries it again with an American accent, and ... nothing.

The whole series is a parody of the increasingly common process of Americanizing a U.K. hit. This month alone, we’re seeing it in Showtime’s “Shameless,” MTV’s “Skins” and Syfy’s “Being Human.”

The imitation is never as good as the original.

That said, the next best thing isn’t all that bad.

“Skins” is a sensation in England — a show with young writers and young actors, creating a show about what they know: sex, drugs, crime, mental illness, class divides, homelessness and, above all, partying. The Brits complained about the plague of “skins parties” the show inspired, with crazed teens trashing homes. To be honest, they look awfully fun.

The first episode of the new U.S. version (filmed in Canada) airs Monday, and it’s about the smarmy Tony (James Newman) pushing his best friend, Stanley (Daniel Flaherty), to lose his virginity. Is Shakespeare the only writer who hasn’t used that plot device? The grownups are idiots, predators or absent altogether — which probably is how it seems when you’re 16 years old.

The episode feels contrived, as the characters are introduced and try too hard to prove their anarchic cool. The next three episodes, though, are surprisingly thoughtful and even a little punk poetic. A lesbian cheerleader (Sofia Black-D’Elia) gains insight from her senile Nana, and two hung-over pals bond while wearing milk mustaches.

The music, of course, is terrific. And if you can brace yourself for all the shocking behavior, you’ll pick up on the underlying thread of sweetness and sadness.

Also Monday, the Syfy Channel launches a new version of the U.K.’s “Being Human,” about a vampire, a werewolf and a ghost rooming together and trying to pass for normal. The werewolf (awkwardly funny Sam Huntington) wants to deal with his “monthly curse” with a minimum of damage, but has lost all his loved ones along the way. The ghost (Meaghan Rath) can’t remember how she died, but can’t seem to leave the house, and misses her fiance painfully.

Centuries-old vampire Aidan (Sam Witwer) has taken a job at a hospital as penance for all the lives he’s taken, but he still struggles with lust and bloodlust. “Somewhere between the tiramisu and the naughty bits, we lose our heads,” his mentor laughs. The mentor, Bishop, is played by Mark Pellegrino (“Supernatural,” “Lost”), who’s forging a nice eerie career for himself. While Aidan is trying to redeem himself, Bishop wants to pull him back into the fold of the powerful vampire society.

Both “Skins” and “Being Human” are about outcasts who form their own families together, muddling through the present even though the future doesn’t look too bright. The characters may all be extreme, but you’ll identify with them all.

I invite the English to keep exporting their entertainment. Even Xeroxes of their shows are worth watching, and many of us will seek out the originals on BBC America or DVDs. I’m not sure, though, what we could send them in return. Will “Gossip Girl” do?

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