Fresh Meat

⭐⭐⭐ based on 4 reviews.

tl;dr: A competent examination of British uni life in the 2010s that gets too caught up in its own drama and ultimately fails the characters it creates. JP and Howard are great though.

Season One

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

The tale of five freshers as they begin their uni experience on the outskirts of Manchester. You've got the posh rah, JP; the "alternative" musician, Kinglsey; the druggy punk, Vod; the insecure hipster intellectual, Oregon; and the party-loving girl next door, Josie. Oh, and the nerdy weirdo that's already living in their shared student accommodation, Howard. You've gotta love Howard.

As characters, Fresh Meat feels like a solid skewering of early-adult, university culture in the 2010s. They're stereotypes, sure, but they're realistically believable stereotypes and their struggles feel real and empathetic as a result. I even found myself rooting for the horribly obvious Ross'n'Rachel romance between Kingsley and Josie. The decision to chuck them in an off-campus overflow accommodation is a nice touch, giving the show room for antics whilst automatically making them outcasts even within a culture of outcasts. All of this is only strengthened by a surprisingly excellent cast, with a wide range of British comedians popping up for small roles and cameos, including the brilliant Robert Webb as a pitch-perfect geology professor desperately trying to feel cool again.

Somehow, the real surprise here though is that Jack Whitehall's JP turns out to have some subtle nuance to him, particularly with the death/funeral of his father which is a standout episode as the finale. In fact, most of the characters do end feeling nuanced. The nice ones turn out to be hypocritical and self-absorbed, the annoying ones turn out to have feelings. There's some neat skewering of expectations and the show is richer for it. That said, it still thrives on fairly by-the-numbers plots of romances gone wrong, forced misunderstandings, and general antics that somehow undermine the realism of the situation and keep reminding you that you're watching a kind of fictional ideal dream of what university is like from people who maybe haven't actually been in quite a while.

That said, the London protests episode is brilliant and had me laughing out loud, so there's definitely hope the show will settle into itself more in future seasons. Oh, and of course, you've gotta love Howard.

Season 2

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

Season two improves on the setup for Fresh Meat in just about every way. The new housemate Sabine brings some interesting ideas into the mix, whilst largely remaining a foil for the rest of the characters to actually develop some more. More importantly, now we're done with the awkward "getting to know everyone" phase, the show can double down on the comedy, to great effect.

Once again, Howard and JP are the characters that truly shine through. JP gets even more interesting as a character with his confrontations of personal homophobia and the trip to his home, where he goes off the rails. In the meantime, Howard being stuck on the phone to customer support for a whole weekend was hilarious and the resultant hookup with Sabine an unexpected twist. On top of which, Vod has become a much more intriguing character. She's no longer just the druggy doesn't-give-a-shit of season one, and instead we get to see some the chinks in her armour (and why that armour exists) through interactions with her job and her family, as well as see her on several occasions actively look out for her friends, such as burning the letters from JPs dad.

The weak part of the season is the love triangle between Josie, Kingsley and Heather. I just don't care. Josie continues to become more jealous and destructive, whilst Kingsley continues to become more pretentious, so I was starting to dislike them both. And then she goes drills through someone's cheek and... I completely don't care about her plotlines any more, though the big ending maybe means all of this can be swept away in the next season.

Oregon gets a mixed bag. I like the repercussions from her affair in season one, I like the revelation that she accidentally falls for Tony's son, and I like how it all comes out in the wash. Overall, I actually quite like her character and the friendship with Vod is a generally beneficial plot device, so I'm intrigued to see where they take her.

Overall, its a step in the right direction and if they can continue to flesh out the characters it could become a great show.

Season 3

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

A new university year and a new housemate, Candice, who is generally a solid addition to the group. Unfortunately, the writers seem to be hellbent on undoing the good work of the last season. Oregon and Vod now hate each other, and whilst he plot with Vod's South American boyfriend is quite fun, it never really leads anywhere. Josie has been expelled and rather than letting her just move on she somehow keeps sticking around, even whilst Kinglsey and Heather continue to be a thing. Honestly, I just actively dislike all three of these characters by this stage, and whilst Kingsley gets some minor redemption, Josie just becomes more of a pain as the season goes on.

The character assassination continues, as Oregon first gets someone deported and then the Vod vs Oregon for uni president – a plotline that could have been great – just devolves into a competition of who can be more ridiculous, so that by the end of the season I'm not sure I like Oregon either. And Vod doesn't ever really get any good progression for the whole season, although the counselling session with the joint is a fun scene. She learns, she forgets, she makes the same mistake again... on repeat.

Even JP gets thrown under the bus, though he at least comes out a little better. JP's infatuation with Sam is weird and just gets more muddled into the love triangles, so I'd rather drop the whole plot (even though Sam herself is great), particularly the bit where he realises he may have inadvertently killed someone. Sure, it's an exposure of upper-class hazing and the dangers of wealth blinding people to morality, but its a heavy-handed approach to the topic at best.

Luckily, Howard is still a rock, and his battles with feminism and interest in Candice are both touching and genuinely interesting. I wish the show was just about those two at times.

Probably most damning is the season three literally ends where it started. Vod and Oregon are back to being friends. Kingsley and Josie are back to being apart. JP is exactly the same. Only Howard has slightly progressed at all, but it feels minor. To me, that's the sign of a bad season in general, where nothing has a meaningful consequence. Sure, there are some fun moments, but it never goes beyond that and feels to take two steps back for every step forward. Not a good sign at all.

Season 4

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

It's graduation season and surely they're all screwed. As we enter the final term of their final year, it's full-on exam panic, job hunting, and the sudden realisation that student debt can be crippling (though, with the reality that this was made in the UK, so "crippling" isn't exactly accurate; more mildly annoying). JP continues to shine, as we get to see that his luxurious life of privilege is really a conveyor belt into the soul-destroying world of suits and champagne. It's a nice insight into the ridiculous expectations of recent graduates within the supposed "high power" jobs and is neatly played off against Howard's awkward fumbling into his dream job at Ordnance Survey, a role where he'll actually a) use his degree, b) be happy, and c) provide a useful service to society. Unlike JP's options.

Candice, unfortunately, has been written out of the show. I don't know why, because I quite liked her character, but I guess it freed up room for Josie to return. The thing is, I don't want her and Kingsley to get back together. The whole Kingsley-Rosa situation just feels a bit weird, Josie by this stage is just a pretty awful person, and the show is generally better when they take the backseat to the other characters. Luckily, they "fix" this by pairing JP and Josie off, which forces Josie to actually realise she's awful and (once again) gives JP further room to be a weirdly nuanced and interesting character. Seriously, why is the posh stereotype the only one that feels like he ever gets positive character development?

On the other hand, we have the ridiculous spirals of both Vod and Oregon, both of whom seem fixated on continuing to ignore and actively undermine their friendship. This, at least, feels quite believable; less believable is just how stupid they both end up being. Oregon definitely comes off worse here, effectively achieving status as the most hated person at her uni through a series of questionably weird decisions. Still, I do like that the show lets her have this comeuppance and – ultimately – does allow her to grow from it.

There are some genuinely great moments, but they tend to be equally offset by poor ones. The episode where they lose Howard in London is generally excellent, though the simultaneous story of the girls at the hippy commune is a bit rubbish. It's similar to the whole "Vodstock" situation. The actual festival concept is ridiculous; the sequence where they're trapped in the basement the day before finals, hiding from angry drug dealers, is great and one of the funniest scenes the show has put together. I do also quite like that the ending it leads to, with the huge house rave and ultimate decisions on what people are doing. It's a decent ending to the show, but I do feel like it could have been better.

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