It's become more noticeable over these five weeks that Fresh Meat is definitely more comedy-drama than sitcom, as only the premiere (written by Peep Show's Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain) has felt like a single-camera sitcom to me. Since then the show's been getting progressively more dramatic, in that it's not afraid to put the emphasis on character rather than hunt for punchlines and comic situations. I'm okay with that, although part of me wishes Fresh Meat was slightly more focused on getting big laughs, as I've grown to expect wry smiles and appreciative chuckles over aching ribs and a desperation to get more people watching this series.
In this fifth episode, the gang all travel by bus down from Manchester to London to participate in a student protest march over planned education cuts (with scenes brilliantly mixed with footage of actual protests). Howard (Greg McHugh) found a likeminded friend in a guy called Brian, who even shares his taste in T-shirts; Vod (Zawe Ashton) channelled her seditious nature into throwing pig's blood on a café window; lovestruck Oregon (Charlotte Ritchie) planned to meet up with Professor Shales (Tony Gardner) after receiving a booty-call from him ("I can't stop thinking about your alabaster buttocks"); Kingsley (Joe Thomas) was pestered by Ruth (Gemma Chan), the sexy drama student he slept with, to join her in a "splinter group" away from Josie (Kimberly Nixon), who thinks he lost his virginity with her; and JP (Jack Whitehall) became radicalized to the cause after meeting with some old friends in a nearby bar ("Class war! How awesome is this!")
It was a great way to shake-up the show at this halfway stage, as there was definitely a feeling Fresh Meat needed a slight kick to keep it going. I haven't been so impressed with the development of characters like Vod and Howard, while posh idiot JP hasn't quite sealed his early promise as a fine comic creation. The show's been more about the Kingsley/Josie relationship and the Oregon/Shales situation, perhaps because those are stories with some substance to them. It's harder to know what to do with the others, but I'm hoping some balance will be achieved before the finale in three weeks time. At least Vod and Oregon have become a nice little duo together, especially now Vod's trying to make her friend see sense about the ickiness of sleeping with a married teacher who's old enough to be your father. Oregon's character appears to be straying from the initial idea of a swot who pretends to be a rebel so she can fit in with people at university, which is something of a shame because I enjoyed seeing her squirm to hide her middle class background.
By the end of this episode, the fallout from the demo suggests big changes between Kingsley and Josie, now she's aware he popped his cherry with Ruth hours before sleeping with her under the pretense of losing his virginity. A lot of the show has leaned on those two characters and how much they secretly yearn to be a couple, but can't seem to get it together, and it's still a very sweet and endearing situation. Nixon in particular is so lovely and sweet in the role that you can't help wanting to see dippy Josie find some happiness.
Altogether, still an impressive show, even when it's not exactly delivering a non-stop stream of gags, because the characters are so much fan to watch, and you care about what happens to them.
written by Richard Pinto / directed by Nick Wood / 19 October 2011 / Channel 4