In my senior year of college I stumbled upon a trailer for a new UK comedy from the creators of Peep Show. Five years later, the show has just come to an end and I have thoughts.
Fresh Meat follows 6 undergraduates at an unremarkable university in Manchester. Similar to Community, its bread and butter is crafting stock characters, and then subverting the audiences’ expectation for how they should exist and act within the narrative. The hero is really an asshole, the idiot is really the romantic lead, the girl who should learn and grown never wise up. Unlike most young adult dramas, the characters don’t undergo massive and unbelievable changes, or achieve massive and unbelievable things. But they do change, much like one does in college. It’s not profound, but it’s a satisfying summer binge, and the whole show is on Youtube. The first episode is a bit rough but worth sticking through till episode 3.
The cast of characters (which one were you?!?)
Kingsley: If you had to pick out a main character, it would be him. A virgin who had taken a gap year to care for his sick mother, he starts the show as something resembling the romantic lead, and becomes more loathsome as the show goes on, to the point where in the final season he wears a soul-patch, fedora, drinks espresso at every occasion, and won’t shut up about how brilliant Infinite Jest is.
Josie: Pretty, blonde, and Welsh. She looks like a milkmaid and acts like a hot mess. She often claims the title of den-mother and moral figure-head of the house, but makes the worst mistakes out of the roommates–fucking JP, dating Kingsley, cheating on her boyfriend, disfiguring a student during a dental hygiene tutorial, and entering into a relationship with JP.
JP: Rich, dumb, and entitled. JP is on the surface the most odious. Not particularly funny, smart, or good-looking. Sadly born in the wrong century–he’d be the first person to point out that he was really meant to be a mid-level bureaucrat in some colonial output during the height of the British Empire. In the first season he tries to make using ‘rape’ as an adjective a thing, but by the end of the series is arguably the most likable. I thinks it’s because he has a weirdly adorable Eddie Munster hairline. It’s a weird show.
Oregon: Though it’s never spelled out, the signs are all there that Oregon is a sociopath. Secretly posh like JP, but desperate to be cool, Oregon molds her identity on those she admires around her. Over the course of the show she enters into an affair with her professor, then dates his son, breaks a man’s penis, bankrupts the student government, and gets impeached from her position as Student Body President. Worryingly, I find her to be the most relatable character.
Vod: the Id to Oregon’s ego. A hardened shell concealing inner vulnerability, with a constitution rivaled only by Keith Richards. Probably the most honest and self-aware of the house. I think the cast of this show is all-around talented, but Zawe Ashton is the clear standout, and I’m guessing her acting choices were the true force behind the crafting of the character. The best moments of the show come from Vod, such as when she discovers the joys of reading:
Howard: Chubby, hairy, Scottish, and hardworking. The best of all of them, clearly on the spectrum, and most of the humor comes from his ‘otherness’ which I think is truly only appreciated by a British audience that’s used to shitting on the Scottish. Mostly Howard is lovable, dull, and weird. He’s also (like a proper ‘other’) a litmus test for the other characters–Vod and JP, being both oddly likable, forge the closest bounds with him. Josie offers condescending assistance to him, Kingsly offers condescending pity, and sociopath Oregon has little interaction with him at all.
A dramedy that is at times hilarious and usually amusing, Fresh Meat works in part because of the evolution of the characters over 4 seasons. The grow and change, often not for the better, but in believable and understandable ways. The show is also interesting from the casual sociological point of witnessing archetypes familiar to us her in the States, but with sometimes hard to decipher accents. Because none of the characters stick firmly to their original archetypes, they take on an interesting level of familiar authenticity. They’re not shitheads because they’re inherently bad people, they’re just shitheads because most people between the ages of 18 and 21 are kind of shitty. We know that because we were shitheads once…and young. Like, much of JP’s character is anchored in the uniquely English class system–but, I know a JP. You know a JP. We all went to college with a dude blessed with average intelligence but incredible faith in his self-worth, there but for the grace of his parent’s bank account. Vod and Bri are separated mostly by race, class, and an ocean. Oregon’s habit of masking insecurities by assuming the traits of others and desire to do good because she knows she should, not because she wants to is…troublingly familiar.
So if you’re looking for a summer binge and have already finished season 2 of Catastrophe, you can find this show on Youtube, Netflix, and Hulu. Season 2 is the best, and you can easily jump in there.