I wouldn't go as far to say Fresh Meat's disappointed me recently, after a superb start, but the drama's been eclipsing the comedy since episode 4. I'm inclined to think the show perhaps needed more consistency in the writing, as almost every episode's the work of a different person. The show's managed to stay coherent throughout, thankfully, but maybe what Fresh Meat needs is a singular voice with a focused direction. Or, in an ideal world, a writers' room to hammer out every script in a creative think-tank. The penultimate episode was actually one of the better hours in some time, with a stronger focus on the comedy, and I appreciated how much of the year's storylines took some big steps forward.
Josie's (Kimberley Nixon) fiancé Dave has come to stay, with plans to move from Wales to Manchester permanently, which understandably irritates Josie's would-be lover Kingsley (Joe Thomas), but it's also clearer than ever that Josie doesn't like having Dave around. In many ways he's now an intrusion and a dampener on her new student life and sense of freedom. Kingsley managed to corral support from Howard (Greg McHugh) and Vod (Zawe Ashton) to send Dave packing for his messiness, but unfortunately Dave managed to endear himself to Kingsley's acolytes by fixing their broken dishwasher and mending JP's (Jack Whitehall) rumpled carpet ("we are but falling leaves in the Garden of Dave..." sighs Howard shortly afterwards). Everyone coping with students digs values a handyman of Dave's abilities, so his position was saved at the last minute, to the consternation of Kingsley (and Josie, if she's honest).
Vod's been pushed aside for much of this first series, so it was great to see her get a funny storyline for once. Her book review of a Salman Rushdie tome was an anarchic slam of the "pretentious" author, which earned her an "F" grade from Professor Shales (Tony Gardner), before being secretly boosted to a "B" thanks to Oregon (Charlotte Ritchie) abusing her influence over their tutor. The Oregon/Shales storyline has been the strongest strand of Fresh Meat, and the direction it took here was also very strong and unexpected--with Shales' wife Jean mistakenly believing it's Vod who's having an affair with her husband, before Oregon bravely set the record straight and was oddly overjoyed to find herself in a real-life "Woody Allen film" as the love rival to a blasé French woman. The scene where Jean and Oregon "lock horns" at a fancy cafe, being incredibly civil and complimentary throughout, was one of the episode's finer moments.
There's usually a few storylines that don't quite work every week, and that remained true here. JP is seeing a counselor to discuss his dad's recent death, but is using their sessions to just tell say what's expected of him, before he bribed his tutor Dan (Robert Webb) with a curry in exchange for the answers to a geology exam. Elsewhere, Howard's weird friend Brian returned to try and patch up their friendship, but just became the unlikely catalyst for Dave finding out his girlfriend's slept with JP and Kingsley behind his back. JP's stories were rather weak and formless, but Howard and Brian's at least dovetailed into the show's second-best running story. I'm just irritated by how poorly Fresh Meat's been handling Howard in general, because McHugh doesn't get much to do, but especially because the idea of giving him an even odder friend hasn't gone anywhere interesting. Brian just feels too broad for the show; looking and behaving like someone you'd expect to find on The IT Crowd.
Still, despite some flaws, episode 7 was funnier than the show's been since its marvelous opening run, and I'm relieved that Vod knowing Oregon's secret hasn't damaged that character too much. Oregon's still desperate to keep whatever street cred she has intact, even now her housemates know she's a posh country girl who was brought up in a mansion. Fundamentally, this episode setup next week's finale tremendously: Shales has left his wife, so will Oregon embrace their relationship or run a mile? And "cherry picker" Josie's secret is out, so will she ditch Dave and commit to Kingsley?
written by Jon Brown / directed by Annie Griffin / 9 November 2011 / Channel 4