Bethan Gwyndaf isn’t the most popular girl in her high school. She’s not the most athletic, nor the most glamorous. And though she seems quite clever, she’s not making much of an academic impact, either.
But there is one thing Bethan is better at than anyone else, even if none of her friends or family are aware of it: She is an incredible liar.
Throughout the five-episode first season of Hulu’s new British coming-of-age import In My Skin, we see that the entire existence of Bethan (Gabrielle Creevy) is built around a series of elaborate, relentless, interlocking secrets and falsehoods. Though she spends every minute she can with best friends Lydia (Poppy Lee Friar) and Travis (James Wilbraham), neither of them have the first idea that her mother Katrina (Jo Hartley) struggles with bipolar disorder and has to periodically be institutionalized, that her father Dilwyn (Rhodri Meilir) is a useless (and at times terrifying) drunk, and that responsibility for keeping her mother alive and her household running falls almost entirely on her narrow shoulders. She befriends school queen Poppy (Zadeiah Campbell-Davies) by pretending to be a fellow rich girl, keeping Poppy from seeing the squalor in which she really lives by explaining that her house is closed to visitors while a new conservatory is being built. She has an excuse for every occasion, and even when teachers can tell that she’s lying, none of them comes close to suspecting the sad and lonely truth of her existence.
Bethan tries applying her gifts to writing stories and poems for English class, but teacher Ms. Morgan (Alexandria Riley) can always spot the inauthenticity couched in her imaginings. “Just be honest,” Morgan instructs her. “Give us something real — bit of grit.”
Created by Kayleigh Llewellyn, In My Skin does not lack for grit. It is candid at almost every turn in a way its heroine is terrified to be. It never flinches from the harsh and overwhelming reality of having to be a parent’s caretaker at what is supposed to be a carefree age. And in Creevy, it has a superb young actor whose face tells us so much, even as her mouth is spinning one fantasy after another to people who’d gladly help her if she wasn’t so afraid of them learning her darkest secrets.
The series is so unsparing, in fact, that its public positioning as a “dark comedy” seems more a nod to each episode’s compact length than to the amount of humor anyone should expect from them. There are some scenes pitched at a slightly comic level, usually involving the school’s aggressive, oblivious gym teacher, or when Bethan’s overactive imagination manifests itself in brief fantasy sequences. (The latter are perhaps gilding the lily, and tend to be more distracting than funny.) Mostly, though, In My Skin is a half-hour drama, and quite a good one. It takes Bethan’s pain and Katrina’s illness seriously, while also allowing both of them occasional moments of joy that feel earned. The brief first season ends in a place that has me very interested to see what happens next. Honestly.
All five episodes of In My Skin premiere July 30th on Hulu. I’ve seen the whole season.