Within the first few minutes of C4 teen drama Skins there is drugs, stand-up sex, black nailpolish and bad house music. Then someone commits suicide. I went from wishing I was young again - the intensity, the hormones - to being glad I'm not - the intensity, the hormones.

This is the fourth season of Skins but don't worry if you haven't watched it before. It follows a new intake of kids entering the sixth form of a working-class Bristol college and airs just as this nation focuses on the death of a teenager from Auckland's King's College. I wonder if James Webster's classmates might watch Skins. It wouldn't do them any harm.

Teenage Thomas: "So, that's the answer to everything: go and get pissed?" His girlfriend Pandora: "No, Haagen-Dazs is the answer to everything."

Skins is gritty enough to give Kiwi teens a better wake-up call than all that bland American teenage bumf that rates so well.

Gossip Girl might get Sonic Youth, the world's coolest rock band, to cameo, but I can't imagine dialogue like this on 5th Avenue.

Club owner giving DJ some money: "That's a bonus." DJ: "What for?" Club owner: "For shutting the f*** up. And if you do slip up someone will come and snap your f***ing spine."

When Thomas, a moody young black DJ, brings home his white girlfriend Pandora, his immigrant mother is aghast.

Girlfriend: "We're not going to, you know, do anything."

Mother: "Like what?"

Girlfriend: "Have sex. I mean, we wouldn't do that. Well, we have done stuff, possibly. Not loads, well you could say loads."

Mother: "Someone please tell me where to find a virgin in this country?"

Skins has attracted attention for using amateur actors and writers and perhaps that's why the show has such an authentic, but at times patchy, tone.

It goes from serious to silly without any signposts to signal a change of gear. The caricature of David Brent-ish new headmaster David Blood sits uneasily alongside the issues-driven kitchen sink drama confronting his students. These are young kids dealing with tough problems: sick siblings, devout families and psychotic depression, not to mention sex and lots of it.

You will never mistake this English teen programme for Hannah Montana.

"What shall we sing?" asks Thomas' friend, a gospel singer. "Beyonce! Rihanna! Lady Gaga!" the kids call out.

"Those are people who can't really sing, don't wear very many clothes and get married far too young. What do we call those sorts of people?"

Answer: "Americans!"

If you want your angsty teen to realise their life is actually not that grim, I recommend taping Skins for homework.

Even if the subtle anti-drug messages go over their head - the intensity, the hormones - they might like the iconoclastic humour.

As Thomas' young sister tells her righteous pastor: "Obi Wan Kenobi is like God but with better weapons."

* Skins is on C4 Mondays, 9.30pm.