When I first watched Fresh Meat I had no idea what to expect from the show or that over four years on it would still be going strong. However somehow Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong’s university-based comedy drama has gone from strength to strength and they’ve been given the rare opportunity to end the series in the way they want to.
We rejoin the students of Manchester Medlock University just ten weeks before they sit their final exams, a fact that had evaded most of them until a surprise arrival at the door. The arrival in question is Richard Goulding’s Tomothy the brother of Jack Whitehall’s JP who has basically arrived to introduce his sibling to his future. The brilliance of Bain and Armstrong’s writing is in combining the humour and melancholy of everyday life and enhancing it beautifully. At the recent screening I attended the cast talked about these scenes involving JP’s brother and how they perfectly exemplified the tone of the show.
Kimberley Nixon, who plays Josie, found it hard to watch the scene in which Tomothy finally lays down exactly what he thinks of his brother and what he’s decided is best for JP going forwards. She also commented on how much she enjoyed the scene in which the brothers attempt not to get emotional when the topic of their recently deceased father comes up. Nixon added that this demonstrated how Fresh Meat was able to take heartbreaking moments and wrap them in a layer of ridiculousness.
Like JP, Josie is struggling to come to terms with the fact that finals are just around the corner primarily as she’s the only member of the household not to sit them. In this opening episode we see Josie hilariously attempt to gather all the gang together to watch the final first new instalment of New Tricks obviously not realising that that series came to an end last year. We were also told that Josie will later begin auditioning new roommates with each having to fill a certain place in the new houseshare. Additionally it seems that Bain and Armstrong are keen to explore Josie and JP as a couple again as they end up in bed together towards the end of this instalment.
Josie isn’t the only one moving on though as her indecisive ex-boyfriend Kingsley has also found love too in the form of the much older Rosa. From the offset its easy to see that the relationship between Kingsley and Rosa won’t last but I for one can’t wait to see how it plays out on screen. Rosa meanwhile also has to contend with working for Charlotte Ritchie’s power hungry Oregon who is now fully engrossed in her role as Student Union President. But when she realises that she’s only being used as a ribbon cutter she fires Rosa and tries her best to spend the night with Tomothy.
The only thing that’s getting in her way is Zawe Ashton’s Vod who has given a drug made by their former housemate Sabine to Tomothy. It’s only after he’s ingested the pill that Vod finds out that the quantities contained within it may be a bit off. This leads up to a fantastic set piece in which Vod is constantly following Tomothy around in an attempt to stop him having a heart attack. Vod’s drug dealing is a small part of a larger storyline which sees her attempt to drag herself out of the mountain of debt that is piling up underneath her mattress. I personally loved the revelation that she’s wanted by the RAF for some undisclosed reason and feel that this should be a fact that’s brought up sporadically throughout the series.
Arguably my favourite character is Greg McHugh’s nerdy Howard who found love last series with the gang’s new younger housemate Candice. Unfortunately for Howard, Candice has broken up with him not that he realises as he’s managed to interpret all of her clichéd text messages the wrong way. The only upside to his break-up with Candice is the fact that Howard is able to spend more time in his self-constructed revision cage that has plotted out his entire life up to the day of his final exam. We were also informed at the screening that the basement which houses Howard’s home-made contraption will become a prominent location during one specific episode this series.
I was a little worried going in to the first episode of Fresh Meat’s final run that it wouldn’t live up to the stand of its previous series. But if anything the time off has given Bain and Armstrong more time to carve out the individual stories that each of these characters will embark on before leaving Manchester once and for all. It’s quite a testament that the writers were able to give each member of the ensemble their own specific storyline and pack it all in to a forty minute episode. But this is what Bain and Armstrong were able to do and I felt the episode perfectly culminated in one of the most awkward house gatherings ever.
As this is series four, all six members of the cast now have fantastic chemistry and watching them at the screening its clear that they have build firm friendships with one another over the past four years. This helps during the scenes in the house where multiple characters are present as the actor bounce off one another in a believable way which adds to the humour of the dialogue. One cast member I would like to highlight is Jack Whitehall who I feel has improved enormously throughout the course of the series. While I’ve never been a big fan of Whitehall’s stand-up, I think his performance as JP has shown what a gifted actor he can be when given the right material. His scenes in this first episode are arguably some of the show’s most poignant and I’ll be interested to see where the JP/Tomothy relationship goes in future episodes.
On top of the fantastic cast, one of the things that makes Fresh Meat so great is the pace and quality of the script which once again is on form. Like any classic comedy, Fresh Meat has a large number of quotable lines in each episode with Jack Whitehall citing Vod’s line about the Hacienda as being his personal favourite here. The one I possibly enjoyed the most was JP’s indignence over the discovery of a basement as he bemoans the fact that he’s ‘been storing my wine in a rack like some accountant.’ The thing which lifts Fresh Meat about other comedy dramas is the fact that every line is not just funny but believable with no line of dialogue seemingly being squandered to get a cheap laugh out of the audience.
At the screening, talked turned to the future and if there were any chances of the characters getting their own spin-offs. Joe Thomas felt that his character of Kingsley was most likely to enter the medical profession and that Nurse Kingsley could easily become a show in which he earns a living by shaving patients before they have their operations. Nixon added that she felt that Josie’s destiny was to become a pharmacist at Boots albeit one who is rather judgemental and makes decisions about who is able to get the morning after pill.
There was also the revelation that a number of cast members had brought their characters’ costumes with Nixon supposedly walking round the house in Josie’s spotty nightie. But it was Ashton who had seemingly come way with the majority of the costumes as she recounted how she once left the house wearing one of Howard’s old jumpers that featured in the episode when the character worked at an abattoir. However it was only when she left the house that she discovered that it had blood on it.
Despite it being a little rough around the edges at times, I think that everything about Fresh Meat from the acting, to the scripts to the characters are all spot on. It’s a shame that Bain and Armstrong set up a show that had a set shelf life but at the same time I don’t know how much mileage that you would get from these characters once they leave university. Still I feel it will be sad saying goodbye to JP, Howard, Vod and the rest as they depart for pastures new and in the case of JP hopefully into a job that somehow involves lions.
Fresh Meat continues on Monday Nights at 10pm on Channel 4