tue 02/09/2014

Fresh Meat, Series 3 Finale, Channel 4 | TV reviews, news & interviews

Fresh Meat, Series 3 Finale, Channel 4

Student sitcom retrieves its sterling reputation after a rocky moment

JP gets the champers in, undoubtedly in the hope that someone will sleep with him

Many a series has found that its initial dynamism and brilliance cannot be sustained. From Julia Davis’s smart, brutal sitcom Nighty Night to the wildly-plotted sci-fi of Heroes, the second seasons just couldn’t keep up the standard or the pace. Often this failure is down to a consensus reality being pushed too far, the suspension of disbelief which the creators cleverly, carefully built with the audience being shattered. Fresh Meat, until very recently, never slid into this trap.

Channel 4’s sitcom about a house of students in Manchester arrived in 2011, courtesy of Peep Show creators Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain. It introduced us to JP, comedian Jack Whitehall’s public school monster, Zawe Ashton’s damaged, seen-it-all metrosexual hedonist Vod, Greg McHugh’s dryly nerdish Howard, Kimberley Nixon’s bouncy, guileless Welsh lass Josie, Joe Thomas’s desperately non-confrontational Kingsley, and Charlotte Ritchie’s ambitious, self-righteous posho Oregon (AKA Melissa). Season One performed a sharply written, superbly gripping balancing act. And it was as good as TV sitcoms get, matching every moment of cringe-making social awkwardness with surprisingly moving character arcs.

Season Two, in which the sextet finished their first year of university, naturally lost some of its predecessor’s pin-sharp unexpectedness but also bedded Fresh Meat down as an essential watch that was here to stay. Season Three, this season, started year two of uni and saw naïve, gullible Christian goth Candice (Fay Marsay from the BBC’s adaptation of Philippa Gregory’s The White Queen) join the house.

Plot highlights have included JP becoming lovelorn, Vod marrying her Mexican summer fling in an attempt to break up with him and, especially, Vod’s awful, uncaring mother coming to stay, odiously played by Julie Cowan (partly reprising her dreadful passive-aggressive Tanya from Pulling). The episode in which Vod and her therapist smoked weed together, working their parental issues out, while Orgeon ruined a sit-in by “breaking” the penis of a “hot Tunisian” combined pathos and ludicrousness in just the right quantities.

It was a shame, then, when the seventh episode finally stepped into the realms of the wholly unbelievable as a jealous JP attempted to kill Kingsley while Josie discovered that the neighbouring house was full of Stepford Husband-style submissive hunks, after which everybody fell out with everybody else in very forced circumstances. It looked, then, as if Fresh Meat might finally have blown it, but the final outing of 2013 just about retrieved things. Josie and Kingsley’s love affair dissolved wrenchingly in their soul-wringing, half-hearted attempt at an open relationship, Vod mended her friendship with Oregon by sabotaging her own campaign to become president of the student union, and Howard and Candice offered a glimpse of rom-com sweetness by finally getting together. A particularly funny moment was when JP attempted to seduce Josie via a Powerpoint presentation.

Yes, Fresh Meat has still got it. I can breathe a sigh of relief and look forward to Season Four. Perhaps the first season set the bar too high but the truth is that, compared to almost every other comedy programme on television right now, Fresh Meat is in a league of its own.

Overleaf: Watch Fresh Meat, Season Three, Episode Four

A particularly funny moment was when JP attempted to seduce Josie via a Powerpoint presentation

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