A student to root for in ‘In My Skin’

Gabrielle Creevy (center), with Rhodri Meilir (left) and Jo Hartley in "In My Skin."
Gabrielle Creevy (center), with Rhodri Meilir (left) and Jo Hartley in "In My Skin."Hulu

I caught up with a few series during my vacation, and Hulu’s “In My Skin” was certainly one of the more memorable ones. It’s five half-hour episodes that amount to a heartbreaking — and sometimes funny — portrait of a high school student cornered by reality.

Set in Wales, the show follows the daily life of Bethan, 16, who, at school, portrays herself as the much-loved daughter of middle-class parents. When she can’t hang out with her two best friends, she tells them it’s because her mother is taking her to the ballet. The truth, though, is that her mother is bipolar and has been in and out of hospitals, and her father is a callous alcoholic who sits in front of the TV in a stupor. They are poor.


But don’t think Bethan is a cold-hearted liar or some kind of school mean girl. She loves her mother openly and is deeply involved in her care — more than a 16-year-old should be. Sure, she’s embarrassed of her home life, but she also fabricates at school in order to provide herself with a place of respite. She knows that if she is seen as the girl with messy problems at home, she’ll feel trapped as that person. You want her to let her friends into her truth — and, in a way, you don’t.

As Bethan, Gabrielle Creevy is easy to root for — one minute a child crushed by her parents’ problems, the next a parent-like figure to them, always braced to play one or the other of those roles. Some of the scenes involving Creevy and Jo Hartley, who plays her mother, are jolting and raw, as they leap from tenderness to cruelty and back again. Both mother and daughter are innocent, and yet they have to inflict pain on each other.


“In My Skin” has enough mordant humor to cut through all the intensity. There are moments when it resembles the lighter “Sex Education,” in between all volatility and the struggles. I was immediately ready for more episodes — which, let’s hope, Hulu and the BBC are going to give to us by renewing the series.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at matthew.gilbert@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.