Saturday, 25 February 2017

FRESH MEAT Season One: In Vod We Trust

The Midnight Ramble's deep dive into Brit TV on Netflix continues with the uni-housing set Fresh Meat.

It's a basic set-up: a couple of unlikely people are thrown together in a house just outside of university: rich prick, anti-establishment rebel, creepy weirdo etc. On paper, who cares, right?

After a decent but unexceptional pilot, the show rapidly picks up steam. After a few episodes, the show's dynamic has gelled and the characters have begun to break out of their archetypes. Unlike American shows of a similar ilk, Fresh Meat has its feet on terra firma. Occasionally, we get doses of real events (the show deals with effects of the Coalition government's austerity measures, and one episode is set during the massive 2011 student protests) which gives the show an added sense of verisimilitude.

By Episode Three, ostensible leads Kingsley (Joe Thomas) and Josie (Kimberley Nixon) have faded to the background, while other members of the ensemble begin to spread their wings. The main reasons to watch are Zawe Ashton as Vod and comedian Jack Whitehall (most well known in these parts for his appearances on Graham Norton) as the entitled blue blood JP.

Vod is a party animal with an eye for casual sex, drugs and booze. She also has a penchant for anti-establishment causes and doing the opposite of whatever the curriculum dictates, She is also incredibly honest, and possessed of a strong moral centre. Unlike the other characters, she is happy with herself. Her arc is basically about realising that she needs to change ever so slightly if she wants to make her way in the difficult world waiting post-university.

JP is the resident 'posh' guy who considers himself a cocksman and is unashamedly class-conscious, despite his appropriation of the language and the style of American hip-hop. Over the course of the season, he finds himself increasingly at odds with his amoral posh set.

In Episode Three, we get the tendrils of future plot lines: namely introvert Howard's (Greg McHugh) attempts to find a romantic partner, and rich girl-turned-goth chick Oregon's (Charlotte Ritchie) desire to live up (down) to the 'glamourous' Vod. Regarding the former, Howard invites Vod to see a movie. She accepts but then realises Howard (below) fancies her. She decides to confront him.

The scene between Vod and Howard is rather sad, and a sign of how good the writing is. Vod doesn't beat around the bush -- she tells Howard she is not interested. TWIST ONE: Howard reacts with disbelief. He had no interest in Dod, and just wanted a companion for the movies. With God chastened, Simon storms back to his room. Cue TWIST TWO: he pulls out a gift-wrapped box of expensive chocolates with a note for Vod. The scene ends with him quietly eating them on his bed.

With Oregon (above), her pursuit of being like Vod leads her into an affair with her lecturer, Tony Shales. This continues to have ramifications throughout the show's run.

Episode Six hits an emotional high that the show has not reached before. It's ultimately a story about mortality. It starts on a blackly comic note, with the indestructible Vod barely surviving an overdose, and then with the news that JP's father is dying. Vod and Oregon take JP home -- despite the fact that he is in the middle of a massive LSD trip. En-route, Oregon takes a detour to reconnect with her childhood companion, a horse. At this point, Vod learns that her friend is not as edgy as she says she is.

Episode Eight is based around JP's dad's funeral. He spends the episode wanting to escape so he can join his posh mates at the expensive party he has bankrolled. The episode gives JP a chance at redemption -- ejecting the posh set who have manipulated and abused him, he turns the party into a celebration of his father.

I haven't really mentioned Kingsley and Josie that much, but that's because they are boring. With Episode Four, the writers seem to realise that Kingsley is a boring tool and come up with a scenario out of an 80s teen comedy: Kingsley is still a virgin, but by the end of this episode he has turned into a lothario. Apart from that, their storyline is vaguely insipid. It's an after-effect of being juxtaposed with the more OTT characters, but it also seems to be part of the show's overriding thesis:

The supposedly normal characters are actually the least normal. They are the most confused and the most unsure of who they are. Vod and Howard might seem weird, but they are at least true to themselves, whereas Oregon tries to live down her privilege, while JP tries to preserve his; Kingsley and Josie are guilty of a more pedestrian form of dishonesty: they realise that they are attracted to each other, but do not do anything about it until it is too late.

Overall, a solid season lifted by some great characters -- and those who aren't that interesting get shoved into some interesting directions.

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