More so than Sarah Jessica Parker, it has been challenging to view Kim Cattrall as anyone other than Samantha Jones in the wake of her Sex and the City stint. And perhaps she has been waiting for just the right TV role to resuscitate public opinion about her credibility as a different character. That character, as it turns out, is Davina Jackson, the reluctantly middle-aged part-time art gallerist who cajoles her husband of over thirty years, Al (Don McKellar), to move into a condo in downtown Toronto from their suburban palace on the outskirts.
While, on the surface (pardon the skin pun), it may seem as though a character like Davina isn’t much of a stretch for Cattrall, apparently forever poised to play the old broad who still allures men from all walks of life, the gradations of her emotional performance build to a rewarding crescendo by the end of the first season, a total of six episodes. The gripping intro to the first episode, “The Other Davina,” channels an exact reaction Samantha Jones would have, during which Davina yells, “Why don’t you just shut the fuck up and give me my hormones?” to a pharmacist that insists she should simply “get a haircut” instead of subjecting her body to the harmful side effects of the drug.
It is within these first few minutes of Sensitive Skin that we fully grasp just how intense her need to remain and appear young are–perhaps even more intense than Samantha “Carpaccio Chemical Peel” Jones. But we don’t get the full picture of Davina until we meet Al, a bit more oblivious to how others view his age bracket, but still levelly consumed by his visual presentation. Together, they enable one another into believing that their behavior is acceptable, that buying non-functional “amoeba” couches and trying to ignore the glaring psychological damage of their only son, Orlando (Nicolas Wright), is perfectly responsible. In fact, the most interesting element about Sensitive Skin is that, rather than a normal mid-life crisis, Davina and Al still try to sustain the delusion that they are somehow being responsible.
This notion objectively goes out the window when Davina encourages the advances of well-known writer Robert Ringwald (Ted Whittall), a man Al envies and rather wishes he could be in terms of his own comparatively lamentable career trajectory as a middling pop culture writer. But, in Davina’s mind, she’s being coy–though it’s fairly obvious that male attention is one of the few things that continues to drive her. Unfortunately, Al’s agent informs him of her mild transgression in going to a park with Robert and getting a little too cozy on the swing set. Still, Al is in denial enough to ignore it, distracting himself with the constant potential diagnoses of his quack doctor, “H.” Cass (Elliott Gould, always a treasure). One of the latest medical analyses he has to offer Al is that his eyes might be at risk and that he should constantly try to rest them. Later, H.’s solutions for all of Al’s woes is to smoke a joint, the ultimate mid-life crisis tool.
As Davina’s mental split into quite literally two people augments, she becomes more prone to destructive behavior, engaging a flirtation with a piano teacher named Greg (Marc-André Grondin) that goes too far, much to Al’s dismay in terms of being able to pretend it’s not happening. Conversely, Al’s reactions to temptations from other women are void, especially to a former flame and radio host named Sarah (Mary Walsh), who only has him on her show to try to have sex with him. Whether this is a testament to how much more attractive Davina is than him, or simply that he is the one more in love with her is at the viewer’s discretion.
But more than just the message that growing old is a form of Chinese torture both physically and emotionally, Sensitive Skin is a unique and subtle exploration of gentrification in Toronto–Davina and Al being blatant offenders in this category. Some of the more nuanced scenes include Al waiting for the bus to come for the first time in his life only to be reamed by a fellow wait-er who is disgusted by his lack of knowledge of how shitty the public transportation system is because he’s new to the area, the condo-dwelling enemy making prices go up for everything. And then there is a moment where Al walks through the city with his agent with an overt graffiti tag that screams, “YOU’VE CHANGED.” Davina and Al have, but so has the neighborhood. Cattrall herself stated of setting the series in Toronto, “It became so clear why Toronto was the perfect city because it’s going through its own midlife crisis right now. It seemed like a perfect fit of what the main character, Davina, was going through, was very similar to what the city, Toronto, is also having to deal with. I thought it was a wonderful metaphor.”
Based on Hugo Blick’s British TV series starring another perfect casting call, Joanna Lumley, the Canadian incarnation of Sensitive Skin offers a candid look at aging disgracefully–and proves Cattrall has still got it, Samantha typecast or not.