If you can manage to pull yourself from this year's bona fide onslaught of really, really good fall TV that’s premiering—and streaming!—from every imaginable device and glowing screen . . . you need to watch the Thai teen drama Hormones.
I know, I know. Usually when I hear the words “teen,” “hormones” and “drama” in the same sentence, I imagine the sickening combination of faux-floral bouquets and the B.O. stench of my sweaty adolescent armpits that laughed in the face of the Secret I applied three times a day. Happily this show is nothing like the rank state of my armpits circa 2005.
Currently in its second season, the “envelope-pushing,” so-called “Skins of Thailand” follows a group of students at the fictional Nadao Bangkok College working through their experiences with drugs, single parenthood, sex, bullying and sexual identity. Hormones somehow manages to serve as an authentic, sensitive and nuanced portrayal of teen life, and while it is provocative (under-rage sex, drinking, general mischief), the show doesn’t shock simply for the sake of raised eyebrows or turned stomachs. (Which sets it miles apart from the over-wrought, hormonal, sweaty-floral-armpit vibe and general desensitization I get from a lot of American teen dramas.)
According to the Guardian, Hormones is the most talked-about show in Thailand, and for good reason. While rampant boot knocking and binge-drinking is par for the course in the good 'ol US of A, Thai society is generally more conservative, and TV programming mostly revolves around game shows and G-rated soap operas.
Hormones director Songyos Sugmakanan says many critics call the controversial series “reckless” because of the issues it touches on.
"Thai society has been closed for a long time...in my day adults chose not to teach us about sex in the classroom because they feared it would lead to us having sex, when actually it just forced kids to go out and learn on their own."
While sex ed in Thailand is mandatory, the subject is reportedly taught by conservative teachers who limit teaching to eight hours per year. Due to the reported lack of accurate information on contraception and STI prevention—as well as the persistence of deeply ingrained cultural stigma—the Guardian’s Kate Hodal reports that Thailand has the second-highest number of teen pregnancies in the world and the highest rate of HIV/Aids in Asia.
Some of Hormones’ "shameless" portrayals of teen sex and abortion have also reportedly angered groups like Thailand’s National Broadcast and Telecommunication Committee, which call the series “obscene” and want it to be censored. But Sugmakanan argues, "The abortion rate here is so high—the teenage figure is around 100,000 every year. It's impossible not to talk about safe sex.”
Jaded Chaowilai of the Women and Men Progressive Movement Foundation echoed his sentiments, "We cannot talk openly about sex education in Thai society, so most of the youth don't know what they're doing when they have sex. Most of the young women have abortions because they don't know how to protect themselves—they don't even know how to use condoms."
While conservative critics have continued to fight for curbed content, Hormones’ popularity in Thailand speaks to the growing need for honest, open conversation about safe sex, and possesses real potential to shift cultural attitudes. Unsumalin Sirasakpatharamaetha (who plays class president Khwan in the series) says, "The aim is to provoke the audience to think, and because it acts like a mirror for teens...Censorship is really only to protect those who can't think for themselves."
Like its British predecessor Skins (I mourn the loss to this day), Hormones is incredibly easy to get sucked in to. I’ve spent an embarrassing amount of time and emotional energy on Bristol-based Skins and its exploration of everything from drugs and copious sex to mental illness, eating disorders, queer sexuality, and bullying. And unlike a lot of American teen-centric shows, the drama didn’t feel like drama, and the sex and drug abuse wasn’t gratuitous. The characters were just regular teens dealing with regular stuff, and sometimes regular stuff can be really mundane and maddening and rewarding to watch. Regular stuff is also a helluva lot more relatable, even to a non-teen, than, say a plot surrounding a group of wealthy Orange County teenagers (God bless the absurdity that was The O.C. Never forget.)
And for the (technically) still-teenager I was at the time I got caught up in Skins, seeing queer teens doing queer teen stuff on TV was like, super cool when my daily inner monologue alternated between “I hate everything” and “Am I like, gay maybe?” Yeah I mean, Pretty Little Liars is great, like, so great, but Skins was more vital because it was messy and awkward and shitty and believable, which is a rare find in any TV show, let alone one depicting teenage life.
From abortions and overbearing mothers, to bullying, queer-dom, and the general messiness of the adolescent mind, Hormones doesn't flinch. It's also like, unbelievably entertaining so proceed with caution. You could lose your week this way.