This review contains spoilers.
After having lost his family, JP is eager to cling to whatever unit will put up with him. So he comes up with the madcap scheme of buying the house and charging everyone half the rent so they can stay together! If only Kingsley hadn’t decided he’s going to spend his immediate future with Heather. If only Oregon wasn’t spending the next year and a bit backpacking with Dylan! If only Howard wasn’t still pining for Sabine! If only Josie wasn’t excluded from uni! If only Vod could tolerate him! This week things also come to a head with Oregon’s accidental near-incest with Tony and his son Dylan. And Josie and Kingsley finally get it on properly after their last fumble.
As an episode, this was a decent entry. There were some great lines from Vod as always and the scene with Oregon, Dylan and the gang in the car was really well done. However as a finale to the series, it’s only partially satisfying. It was obvious that Oregon’s relationship with Dylan couldn’t last as soon as we found out his father was her ex-lover Tony but the big reveal still came as a nice surprise. It’s one of the few events in Fresh Meat that felt as if it had any weight to it.
It’s especially surprising when you see Kingsley and Josie rutting away. After having built up to it over fifteen and a bit episodes, it’s an anti-climax (if you’ll pardon the phrasing). Josie turning down Kingsley makes no sense seeing as she’s spent this entire series dropping heavy hints about them getting together. It just feels like another contrivance for yet another potential love triangle with Heather. Please for the love of god Channel 4’s drama department, stop relying so much on people shagging other people they shouldn’t!
I should stress that Fresh Meat isn’t a bad show, I just think that there’s a huge squandering of potential here. Lena Dunham recently hit big with her series Girls which managed to balance comedy and drama far more effectively. It helps that she’s a lot closer in age to the characters she writes rather than most of the writing team of Fresh Meat. There’s an authenticity in her portrayal of Hannah and her friends who are nuanced and compelling characters. And it’s that kind of authenticity that’s missing here. Fresh Meat is ostensibly a comedy-drama but it’s too broadly written to be taken seriously. Like a gateway for Skins fans to get into watching Peep Show.
There’s a great show to be made about the trials and tribulations of a uni flatshare. But Fresh Meat all-too-often plays it safe and uses Peep Show-style dialogue and observations to paper over the many cracks in its structure. All too often this series, storythreads have been introduced too late to do anything effective with them then dropped soon after. This episode alone brought back Sabine only so Howard had something to do. (Though his reaction when told by JP he belongs there was a genuinely touching moment.)
This series of Fresh Meat has also played it too safe and in doing so has kept the flaws of the first series. Josie and Kingsley’s blossoming romance was an undeniable weakpoint of the show yet returned this series. Not even the introduction of a love rival could liven it up.
Kingsley’s new squeeze Heather, rather than become an integral part of the group dynamic only seemed to exist to keep the tension between him and Josie alive. As a character, she never managed to become anything more than Kingsley’s girlfriend and her personality would change to fit the scene. A shame as Sophie Wu proved herself to be a capable actress badly served by scripting. One particularly clunky example was her talking about Josie driving an implement through someone’s cheek when most people would say drill.
Not that she was the only one to suffer from this. Everyone in Fresh Meat suffered from dialogue that was straining too hard to get a laugh. Like they were all Mark and Jez’s disconnected thoughts made flesh, passing witty/awkward commentary on their situations. This had the effect of sacrificing character for the sake of a cheap laugh, and sometimes the laughs were very cheap.
The first series had two very strong character moments when JP’s father passed away and Oregon realised she doesn’t have to put on a front. The only plot thread comparable to those from this series is JP losing his childhood home which drives him to cling tightly to his new family unit. A large part of this series is spent revisiting the events of series one, JP angsting over his father, Josie angsting over her ex, Oregon angsting over her relationship with Tony and his son. However the character progression from the first series has been largely ignored. Everyone is more or less the same as they were when they came into the house, which is fine for a sitcom, but Fresh Meat is not a sitcom.
Fresh Meat seems to exist as a Channel 4 best of, its DNA made up of parts of their recent successes. There’s traces of Peep Show naturally (what with sharing writers/creators Sam Bain and Jess Armstrong.) with liberal sprinklings of Skins and The Inbetweeners. All of those shows have their own clear identity, Peep Show taps into the anxieties of adulthood, Mark and Jez cling to each other as remnants of their own fading youth. Skins was about dealing with the emotional turmoil of teenagedom, though not always convincingly. And The Inbetweeners was four boys trying to raise their social standing and the frustrations they encounter. Fresh Meat is about a group of freshers at university, cock/wanking jokes and not much else.
At the heart of Fresh Meat‘s problems is an identity crisis. It simply doesn’t know what it is or whether it’s got anything new to say. There’s a lack of vision and direction, not helped by the fractured writing process. Giving each writer their own episode has resulted in a lumpy uneven series where events quite often don’t match up. See this week’s sudden re-appearance of Sabine for example.
All too often, potentially interesting angles were squandered or just dropped. The mysterious flatmate from series one was just one long build up to a wanking punchline. This series, there was a potential rival for Oregon, Vod’s burst of responsibility and Kingsley’s hippy direction. All quietly forgotten about in order to maintain a status quo.
The recently announced third series will have to up its game considerably if Fresh Meat is to last further beyond that. What’s sorely needed is an experienced head writer to take charge and iron out the kinks and unnecessary plots. It would be great if a radical overhaul was carried out, jettison the Josie/Kingsley relationship drama because it really doesn’t work. Shake things up. If it chooses to stick with the well worn formula of awkwardness and innuendo based humour then it’ll remain patchy, at times very entertaining but never vital.
Read Jake’s review of the previous episode, here.
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