I discovered Fresh Meat during it’s first season, hearing about this new university sitcom aiming to bring a modern twist to the university sitcom, something which had been oddly missing in the last decade of TV. Being in the final year of my university degree I gave it a try, hoping it’d be a true reflection of the university I knew as opposed to the shouty over the top antics of The Young Ones, which I’d never got on with and frankly found ridiculous. I quickly fell in love with the series, Jack Whitehall’s breakout role as the rich idiot we all knew at university, Josie and Kingsley’s will they/won’t they romance, Oregon as the pretentious fresher trying to leave their beige past behind them for a new alternative multicolour future and Howard, the personification of those individuals for whom university social life simply isn’t a selling point and almost a spitting image of someone I knew at university.
I watched over the next three series as Oregon plotted her way to Student Union Presidency, Kingsley and Josie edged closer to a relationship and random laconic Dutch girls intervened in proceedings (I also lived with a Dutch girl during my last year strangely enough). The gang bumbled from one disaster to another, marrying Mexicans and abandoning them in generic British malls, drinking a cellar full of wine in Cornwall and heading to London for the student protests/riots of 2010, another event that I managed to get caught up in during my uni years. I’d love to say that I was on the front line being kettled but instead I was stuck in London Victoria waiting for a coach home, while being beset by delays caused by my colleagues smashing up Conservative HQ. Vive La Revolution. All the while the gang combined this with dealing with the ever looming desire to achieve a 2.1, deciding whether Drama or Geology was the subject for them and trying to have the ‘experience’ that uni is sold as. Cheers New Labour. It was my uni show in a way that I’m sure that many 80’s students felt about The Young Ones, the fact that so much paralleled my own uni experience only exacerbated my feelings. Once I’d graduated in 2012 it almost became a form of wish fulfilment, prolonging my now departed uni days as I came to grips with life back in the real world.
When Season 4 failed to follow in it’s usual Autumn timeslot and radio silence ensued I slowly accepted the show was over, doomed to never conclude in a similar, although significantly less highbrow, way to Deadwood. Jack Whitehall had become a genuine UK star, staring and writing in his own sitcom, selling out stand up gigs and becoming a regular on the UK chatshow circuit. Zawe Ashton and Charlotte Ritchie were becoming regulars on UK TV, Joe Thomas was well..still Simon from the Inbetweeners and Kimberley Nixon had starred in Hebburn…yeah but it seemed like schedule conflicts would forever doom the show to being over. Then in mid 2015 came the announcement that a fourth and final season was on it’s way. I was overjoyed…but I shouldn’t have been.
Season 4 fast forwarded the show from the mid Year 2 end point of Season 3 straight into the final year. On the face of things this was a sensible decision, final year is ripe with dramatic potential and new circumstances to bounce off. JP’s brother Tomothy is a brilliant harbinger of the realities of life and living up to your families expectations and Vod’s financial worries scarily reflected my own broke status at the end of uni, although significantly exaggerated. However the show decided that in it’s rush to tie things up, it’d act as though the time gap did it didn’t exist while failing to deal with some of the hanging plot lines. This was just the beginning for a season of up and down quality which totally ignored the characterisation that had been built up over the past three seasons.
Oregon, previously the pretentious try hard trying to re-invent herself for uni but with a softer side to her personality, turned into a caricature of a self unaware idiot going as as far as sleeping with a married man and in the end being entirely reliant upon Tony Shales for her future success, undermining her character arc of moving away from him and becoming more comfortable in her own skin. Kingsley went down a similar route becoming a parody of a Radio 6 listening hipster with a total lack of confidence. His previous somewhat nuanced background of coming from a single parent family having to look after his disabled mother and finally being given a bit of freedom by university life, thrown away in favour of making jokes about an overbearing mother, a lack of libido and wanting to avoid returning home at all costs. Both Oregon and Kingsley are entirely unlikable throughout the entire series and while this may be intention on behalf of show runners who in Jeremy and Mark created two of the hardest to like characters in the history of TV, it jars against the previous three seasons of Fresh Meat. Howard, Vod and JP come out of the season slightly better, mainly retaining their previous characterisation and building off this, with the episode involving Howard getting lost in London coming the closest to regaining some of the shows previous glory.
However the biggest casualty of the hit and miss writing of the final season is the Kingsley/Josie romance. The core of the previous three seasons and what was left hanging at the end of season 3 is barely covered. Practically ignored throughout the season in favour of a Josie/JP romance that is uncomfortable at best and baffling at worse. Josie/JP was always something that happened because of Josie’s drinking and poor decisions, a recurring silly mistake that symbolised university life. Turning this into a full relationship makes little sense and there never was any real conclusion to the Josie/Kingsley relationship, it was dealt with as something resolved and final despite the show runners comments about a love triangle…although considering the way Kingsley’s character was so grating, I’m not surprised Josie avoided him. Even a Shoreditch resident would give him a wide berth based upon his Season 4 characterisation.
Such is the problem of a TV show that is written by numerous different writers, each with their own unique slant on the characters. Characters are likely to change and morph given each writer’s views and unless a firm hand is kept on the show by the show runners, it can result in poor character continuity, as often seen in American TV and it’s massive 20-24 episode seasons. Fresh Meat had largely avoided this in the past three seasons but is a case study in it’s final season and it strangely disappointed me. I hadn’t realised how much I had tied up in these characters, how much their university experience paralleled mine and when I graduated how much I held onto uni through them, until they started acting out of character. I didn’t care when Buffy made Spike a lovelorn fool despite him being one of my favourite TV characters and I only mildly cared when House destroyed the character of House from the moment he drove into Cuddy’s front room but this was oddly anger inducing and unfortunately resulted in a Season 4 that just didn’t like up to the previous seasons for me.
For all my disappointment in the final season, the one scene that absolutely nailed the pathos of the final year of university was the very final scene of the series. Josie walking around the now empty Hartnell Avenue, staring into her former friend’s empty rooms wistfully as the episode ended not with a bang but with a contemplative look back, remembering the memories, the sounds and the people. My final day of university felt exactly this way, after years of crazy events, new experiences and highs and lows, that last day is so deflating, so insignificant, so unimportant and feels like it should be something more, something different, that it just feels wrong. Fresh Meat nailed it and for all the faults in the final series, largely nailed the uni experience over 4 seasons. For me this show was as much a part of my uni life as the actual uni experience, it’s just a shame that it stumbled a little in tying up all the loose ends but then don’t we all after uni?