When you’re staring down the barrel of a chilly winter and you don’t get out much, you have to be resourceful when it comes to making friends. Real relationships involve interaction, compromise and leaving the house occasionally. Telly character based friendships are just as rewarding, but no-one is going to get pissy when you forget to pick them up from the airport, neglect to send birthday cards or plan last minute long weekends in Peru when they need help moving house.
Still, even with telly friends, you have to be a bit discerning. My made up mates are Kevin McCloud (multilingual renaissance man in a fleece), Barney off How I Met Your Mother (who wouldn’t be friends with a lovable, womanising gay Doogie Howser), Malcom Tucker (I regularly fantasise about dispatching him to ‘deal with’ my enemies’) and Tracy Jordan (for hangover free trips to the strip club of the mind). When Fresh Meat started last year, I was suspicious of this potential group of new buddies. An hour a week is a lot to commit to friendship. Was I going to get sufficiently rewarded for sitting on my arse watching TV?
I was. The initial encounters were a bit awkward and shuffly - in retrospect, just like Fresher’s Week. But even though Fresh Meat is a show about being at university, it’s driven by the strength of its characters and not the situation they’re in. It works because its a relatable set up, but you could put Josie, JP, Vod, Oregon, Howard and Kingsley in a shoe shop or a cupboard under the stairs and there would still be much ROFL.
Armstrong and Bain’s writing is smart, funny and beautiful, and episode 2.1 excels because they don’t obscure it with descriptions, explanations and recaps to get you up to speed. They just hit you with it. Jack Whitehall’s perfectly on point posh twat JP starts with some of the funniest lines I’ve heard all year - and this is before the credits have rolled. “Owt is any, nowt is none, a barm cake is a sort of bap, a bap is a tit and a tit...is a tit!” he explains to his similarly southern, confused mate, like Livingstone if Livingstone could barely navigate himself out of Jack Wills.
But even though Fresh Meat is a show about being at university, it’s driven by the strength of its characters and not the situation they’re in.
One of the loveliest things about being reunited with old, imaginary mates after the holidays is that some of them change their hair in hot or hilarious ways. Oregon’s new fringe and specs combo is fit, and Kingsley’s new soul patch (“billy goat muff”) is frightening. There’s some debate about whether to rent “departed” housemate Paul Lamb’s room to a new housemate - perhaps predictably, JP wants to turn it into a bong room. Josie’s got a new BFF, “mental dental” Heather, who is falling for Kingsley despite Josie’s offputting lies (“he’s like Russell Brand on the inside and Russell Grant on the outside”.) JP discovers that his friend Giles is gay, which is seriously discomfitting as JP was the beneficiary of a few hetero lad boarding school shower room hand jobs (“do you think having gay sex with a gay man makes me gay?”)
Howard has a job in an abattoir and is gifting his pals with offcuts (“it’s jazz meat!”), and Oregon finds herself in the squeezed academic middle when she applies to be an intern for Lady Professor Shales’ new literary magazine, and Man Professor Shales is not responding well to being romantically spurned by either of the women in his life. Vod’s money borrowing gets out of hand, and she’s forced to find alternative financial solutions when the others refuse to try to extract their debts from other people’s power metres in Toxteth. Eventually scary Sabine moves in, despite her complaints about water pressure, vermin and Josie’s final, desparate plea as she stands in the doorway with all her stuff. (“I don’t want to sound horrible, but you see, the thing is that none of us want you to live here.”)
If Fresh Meat can stay this taut, sharp and perfectly paced, then I can give up all other television for the next eight weeks and use it as my sole source of entertainment nutrients. Kingsley and co would probably make terrible real life friends - but I’m so keen for their virtual company that I’m going to watch Episode 1 on 4OD all over again.
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