Greg McHugh as Howard, Zawe Ashton as Vod
Fresh Meat is far and away the best comedy drama series of the last six years.When Peep Show writers Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong announced their new student-based comedy in 2011, I was not convinced.I was sure a creative ennui had set in, and this would be last resort TV. How wrong I was. With six beautifully drawn main characters , based on the writing duo’s own hapless university escapades, it’s not only rooted in reality, but surreal enough to engage, and with enough pathos to sustain four series.The cast are superb from the get-go.
Friends this ain’t.It’s smart, scathing, astute. There are references to Royal Trux and Sylvia Plath. People die; smoke too many spliffs, fuck up,wear bad knitwear and sleep with each other. Posho sexist cretin JP (Jack Whitehall) went into denial when he lost his father in series 1, and even Josie, the most bland, slightly dull character by far (although nicely portrayed by Kimberly Nixon) still managed to drill a hole in a woman’s face during a dental exam, and lose her university place.
Then there’s the Oregon/Professor Shales relationship. Lesser writers would have focused on the male gaze, and inherent lechery- neurotic, posh Oregon (Charlotte Ritchie) simply tired of the age gap and the attitutude of Shales (Tony Gardner) who was both flunking her and being emotionally manipulative, and ended up, albeit unaware of the fact, with his son Dylan (Ronan Raftery).But this was only after learning Shales’ wife Jean (Sara Stewart), also a professor, wanted to meet up with her to discuss the affair. ”How French”, she beamed with pleasure.
Oregon is a neurotic mess, albeit a likable one- her clothes are always just a shade too ‘try too hard’, her posturing too self-conscious. A bit like so many of us in our twenties. But unlike so many in love with the French Cahiers du Cinema pose, she seemingly has the intelligence and focus to succeed. This series, though, saw a backlash when she took up the post of uni rep, and became a power-crazed Cameron figure, cutting resources like disability transport and sports rec.
Sulky, hedonistic Vod (Zawe Ashton) is my favourite, product of an alcoholic mother and absentee father.A close second is creepy Howard (Greg McHugh) a mature student not quite of this planet. Both are utterly transformed by this series though, as with insecure, would-be hipster Kingsley (Joe Thomas) as they realise university is coming to an end, and the future is looming like the end of innocence. Adult responsibility beckons. Such is the beauty of the writing- nobody is shirking from making these young people grow up.
As it reaches the end, I will actually feel a little sad, as with another favourite-Spaced,which had characters that were flawed, easy to relate to and lovable . This dysfunctional family unit will be much missed: a reunion would be very welcome. Can’t say that about many other TV series.
Fresh Meat is on Channel 4, Mondays at 10pm.