I haven’t written about Fresh Meat, now five hour-long episodes into its first series of six on C4, but it is officially my favourite comedy of 2011 (certainly my favourite new comedy of 2011 – Modern Family remains the benchmark). It’s a comedy drama, strictly, but it works to both briefs. Unlike C4’s more esoteric Campus, which concentrated on the staff of a university, here is a student comedy that concentrates on six freshers in a houseshare at a fictional Manchester seat of learning, and yes, if you really stretch the point, it’s a bit like a 21st century Young Ones. Except it isn’t.
I remember watching The Young Ones in the early 80s as a teenager and not even really knowing it was about students. I loved it from the word go, and thought Mayall, Edmondson, Planer, Sayle and Ryan were just about the funniest people I’d seen on telly since Cleese, Chapman, Idle, Palin, Jones and Gilliam. I know people bang on about The Young Ones being the first “punk” sitcom, but that’s not overstating the case. It was on BBC2 and yet it felt, in 1982, like it was for “us” and not “them.” It was a twisted, surreal, cartoon-like rendition of student life where anything could happen, written and performed by young men who were not that long out of redbrick universities (which I know now to be historically relevant, too, as a certain pair of non-redbrick universities were where TV traditionally went for its comedians). Fresh Meat makes no claims to be revolutionary, but it is, in a modest way, as it’s about young people, created by two people who are not quite so young but remember what it was like, and instead of either trying to be those young people’s best mate it gently mocks them, but without losing empathy for them. Over an hour, that’s some achievement. They are feckless layabouts, after all.
Honestly, you will actually care about the six studes in Fresh Meat. They are shallow and pathetic at times, and almost disabled by their own self-consciousness, but they are students in a strange city for the first time, finding their way as so many others have found their way, and it’s hard not to warm to their plight. The writing is the key for me; created by Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong, who’ve thus far only written the first episode, it’s been farmed out to lesser-known names who have picked up the brief and run with it. I’m jealous of them all, of course. The performances are uniformly human, too, if occasionally hidebound by the post-Office acting style. If the cast has “stars” they are Joe Thomas, basically playing Simon from The Inbetweeners with his gelled fringe patted down, and stand-up Jack Whitehall, in his first acting role. I was as suspicious as you of the latter, but believe me, he’s brilliant as a grotesque version of his own, posh self. It was he, as JP, who in the first episode uttered the phrase, “muthafucking baked potato” and it’s one of my favourite TV moments of the year. All five episodes are on 4OD and the final one’s on next Wednesday.
I hope it gets a second series – unlike my second favourite comedy of the year, Sirens (another comedy drama that ran over an hour actually, and was also on C4; it could have easily run for another series) – and I hope all the writers come down with a debilitating but non-threatening illness that means they are unable to write it, so that Sam and Jesse have to go looking for other writers to do it.
I review Fresh Meat, and show clips, on this week’s Telly Addict review for the Guardian. Also: Kissinger on More4; Blue Bloods on Sky Atlantic; and Holy Flying Circus on BBC4, which was warmly received, written by a Fresh Meat scribe, Tony Roche, and is exactly the kind of show that BBC4 won’t be making any more, because the BBC needs to deliver quality first, apparently.