Fresh Meat Series 2 Episode 1 review: Joe Thomas & Jack Whitehall shine in the return of this hilarious Channel 4 drama

by Matt D

One of the biggest success stories of 2010 in terms of TV shows was university-based comedy drama Fresh Meat which was written by Peep Show scribes Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong. When it first aired most critics believed it to be a new Inbetweeners but set at a university, especially as it starred Inbetweeners actor Joe Thomas, however over time people grew to see it as a deeper show with well-drawn characters and a relatable story.

Since it aired, the programme has gone on to win a plethora of awards including a British Comedy Award and two accolades from The Royal Society of Television. Tonight all six actors return for series two which is set in a brand new term, however they are still learning to deal with life away from home and new problems emerge with the search for a seventh housemate.

Yes the mysterious Paul Lamb has moved out and now the students need to find a new person to share their house with and JP’s suggestion is his posh friend Giles. The hilarious opening scene see JP escort Giles round a supermarket while instructing him on Northern dialogue and telling him that the Northerner is ‘trustful and loyal like a gundog’. JP enjoys having Giles around and doesn’t like it when his housemates reject the idea of him joining their number, his outrage at not getting his own way is particularly amusing, however he still joins him on the toga party scene as well as allowing him to stay over.

It seems though that Giles has been hiding a secret for all those years namely that he’s gay and as he and JP used to engage in ‘Power Showers’ with each other – I leave it up to your imagination to guess what that means – our resident posh boy also starts to question his own sexuality.

Although JP’s struggles with his sexuality, things are as tasteless as ever, for example he suggests that he participate in a threesome with Kingsley and Josie to see which he enjoys more. The storyline is handled sensitively in other scenes and I really enjoyed Jack Whitehall’s performance here as his ultimate acceptance of Giles’ sexuality is strangely moving.

Josie’s suggestion for a seventh housemate is her new best friend Heather, a hard-drinking fellow dental student. Josie is worried that Heather will go off with JP but then is shocked when she ends up in bed with Kingsley as the two still have plenty of unresolved feelings for each other. Since falling for Josie last term, Kingsley has now adopted a blasé attitude to life growing a tiny beard, which Vod refers to as a bit of muff stuck on his chin, and generally lying about going with the flow. As Josie realises that Heather and Kingsley might become an item she tries to warn them off each other however it seems that her plan may have gone really wrong. Again I enjoy how the Kingsley and Josie plot is still being kept up while the introduction of a new threat in Heather may finally mean that Josie admits her true feelings.

Of the other three central characters, oddball Howard has now started to work in an abattoir which means he now gets the free off-cuts of meat that were judged unsuitable for public consumption. Vod is seen borrowing a large amount of money from Oregon however it is later revealed that she has taken money from all of her housemates, with the exception of JP, who then confront her with a payment plan to reimburse them. Finally, Oregon herself is desperate to write for the university’s literary review however the only problem is that the lecturer running it is the ex-wife of the Professor Shales with whom she had an affair with last year. Meanwhile Shales seems to be suffering and has thrown out the original course syllabus instead wanting his students to study soppier literary works.

I think this series opener of Fresh Meat perfectly reintroduces us to all of the characters from the first series and also demonstrates how most have tried to change their image since last term. Usually when you hear the term comedy drama it means the product is neither funny nor particularly dramatic but here both are true and sometimes run simultaneously such as in the case of JP’s storyline. In terms of other stories we have the continuing Josie and Kingsley relationship, Oregon having to work with the ex-wife of her former lover and Vod realising that she can no longer trick her housemates into giving her large sums of money. The humour is also on show here with some great one-liners, my favourite being when JP tells Kingsley that he’s angry about not knowing whether he’s straight or gay to which his response is ‘so you’re bi-furious?’

The cast also share great chemistry and you can see now they’re all more comfortable with each other than they were in series one, which I suppose would happen to housemates during their second term. Though I do find his performance a bit hit and miss at times, I felt that Whitehall here was superb both with the comedic and slightly more dramatic work essentially being the standout of this opening episode. Joe Thomas and Kimberly Nixon are also great as Kingsley and Josie continue to circle around each other, neither really wanting to make the first move and for me they are still the most realistic characters out of the bunch. Zawe Ashton is also great as the insulting Vod but for me the majority of the humour comes from Greg McHugh as Howard whose deadpan delivery is absolutely great this time wondering why everybody automatically assumes that he loves Lord of the Rings.

Overall this is another confidant series opener from Bain and Armstrong who continue to draw on their experience from their university days to write the show. Though there wasn’t as many laughs as I would’ve liked, I was more than happy just to relax back into watching these characters while the cast impressed once again. I’m looking forward to seeing where all the respective stories go over the series and I wouldn’t be surprised if the show won another load of awards following this second series.

Are you glad to have Fresh Meat back? What did you think to this first episode? Leave your comments below.