If you missed the first series, Fresh Meat is Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain (of Peep Show fame)’s hilariously awkward vision of student life, a mine of comic potential that hasn’t been so successfully tapped since The Young Ones.
Previously, the writers exploited students’ attempts to reinvent themselves when they start university, with each one trying and failing to be something they’re definitely not. Joe Thomas as the sweet, fumbling and virginal Kingsley managed to acquire the not-so-apt nickname ‘the pussyman’ and the previously horse-loving Melissa turned up at Uni as self-styled hippie ‘Oregon’.
A new series means a new term and more attempts at a new start: Kingsley has regenerated again and is now sporting a god-awful excuse for a beard and some pseudo-zen philosophy to match: ‘what a thing does is what a thing is, I’m just letting it do its thing.’ The ongoing romantic subplot between Kingsley and Josie certainly hasn’t changed though: they continue to fail to get together just as drastically.
This story still has plenty of run in it, but it was largely background material this week as Jack Whitehall’s bumbling toff JP stole the show. Whitehall gets a lot of stick for playing nothing but exaggerated versions of himself, and perhaps this is true. But to be honest, he does it really well, so who cares? Although his portrayal occasionally edges too far into caricature – ‘Sorry, I don’t speak posh’ is one understandable response to his ‘banter’ – several of his moments in this opener are simply golden.
Showing Giles around (a new transfer from Exeter and an old school-friend from Stowe), JP revels in imparting his knowledge of the local lingo: ‘owt is any, nowt is none… tea is supper, dinner is lunch.’ When Giles reveals he is gay, however, JP finds this harder to adapt to – largely because memories of shared ‘power showers’ (‘you know – like, extreme washing’) at school cause him to question his own sexuality. He is hilariously befuddled – ‘bi-furious’ as Kingsley puts it. But after some patient explanation from Giles that ‘I don’t want to bum you, and you don’t want to bum me’ he is back on form, proudly presenting his gay best friend to the housemates as a new addition to the gang. The thing is, they’ve already promised the room to the iron-willed and frighteningly officious Sabine, who, it seems, does not suffer fools, or people who renege on rental agreements. This could, and probably will, get ugly.
Meanwhile, Oregon’s liaison with Professor Schales is well and truly over, though he refuses to accept it, stumbling around the faculty recalling halcyon days of reading ee cummings to her and weeping, and Howard is still bloody brilliant. Greg McHugh’s deadpan delivery is a consistent highlight and more Howard can only be a good thing. It looks like this series will be as compelling as the first. The strength of every member of this young cast is what really makes this show shine and, on the evidence of this first episode, they’re only getting stronger in Series 2.