Thursday, 22 September 2011

Television | Fresh Meat - What The Hell Was That?

Well, I don’t know what to make of that.

Even now, as I sit, snuggled up in my own bedclothes, reading tweet upon tweet from quite a number of apparently real-life, comedy-appreciating human-beings about how much they enjoyed Channel 4’s new student comedy-drama Fresh Meat (what the hell does that even mean, ‘comedy-drama’? Is it just suggesting that it’ll be less funny than a comedy’s supposed to be, with more shots of people falling back against their beds, staring wistfully up at the ceiling about how they haven’t got together with that other person who’s also currently falling back against their bed in a brilliant mirroring shot, all while Jose Gonzalez moans faintly from somewhere in the sideboard?), I just don’t know what to make of it.

So this is comedy-drama, right? Less jokes, more cinematography?

To begin with a positive, the first episode, containing as it did no real plot other than a refreshingly unfamiliar ‘boy and girl can’t bring themselves to say how they feel about one another, both act foolishly as a result, hurt each other’s feelings’ story arc, did strike some pleasant, familiar notes. The student house, hideously narrow and high and baige, filled with furniture both antiquated and childish, felt very much like a genuine student house. The awkward atmosphere of people trying to forge a new, post-school identity for themselves was just right.

But then there were the bum notes, and here I can touch upon a long-standing theory of mine that the university experience, much like sex or dreams or philosophical discussions conducted under the influence of narcotics, does not translate well into a story told to others. That which we remember as being hilarious/erotic/terrifying/deeply profound often turns out, when we relate it to outsiders, to be just lame. Presumably Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong, for instance, knew someone at uni who used to go around the pub asking people for a dribble of their pint until he had a drink of his own. ‘Hilarious!’ they chortle. ‘Remember how funny he was?’ No, Bain and Armstrong, I, the audience, don’t. I’ve never met anyone like that. You've just based a comedy routine on the kind of anecdote you'd run away from at parties.

I’ll admit – the fat Scottish man just baffled me. At first it seemed Bain and Armstrong wanted to make him the off-the-wall, semi-autistic, scene-stealing character. Cooking Peking duck in the nude! Just like everyone remembers from uni. Then he became a stingy, parasitic sort of student character, in the pint-dribbling sketch. Then it became clear that they needed Joe Thomas from The Inbetweeners (oh, we’ll get to him) to have a male character to take advice from in the legally required ‘boys and girls sit separately, talking about sex and each other’ scene*, so he became a comic sidekick and wingman. Then he started farting mischievously on the toilet. What is this character supposed to be, Bain and Armstrong? He isn't anything at all.

But what had me actually shouting at the screen was the straight guy role. Or, rather, all three of them, because what audience really want to see in comedy is lots of ordinary people with no distinguishing characteristics.

The first of these straight guys is a blonde girl. The second is a brunette girl, who is differentiated from the blonde girl by her occasional lying about things that don’t matter. The third is Joe Thomas, and as if to make it very clear that the writers aren’t going to bother doing anything more interesting with them than replicating his lovelorn character from The Inbetweeners, he gets described as ‘lonely’ and ‘sexually frustrated’ before we’ve actually seen any evidence whatsoever of that. Now, the blonde girl and Joe Thomas seem to like each other, so we have a (boring) sense of where they’re going to go forward as characters. Other than being the focus of a crap little plot based on ‘isn’t it terrible when people copy your work?’ that could just have easily have been given to the blonde girl, I have absolutely no idea what the purpose of the brunette girl is. At one point, she also admitted to liking Joe Thomas, but this was never brought up again. So out of seven main characters (six if the joke about the missing housemate is that he’s never seen) three of them are ‘normal’. In a comedy. This is not a good idea.

The last two characters were fine – that is to say, they had clearly defined personalities. Even if I’m not sure how far ‘from a rough background (hilarious!), reacts to everything with a dull stare and dull monotone’ can be stretched out over an entire series. But Jack Whitehall was surprisingly convincing, if rather cartoonish, as an insecure, posturing, posh sod who might well encourage collective masturbation over biscuits.

What’s really, really not fine, though? Another bloody ‘Evil Dean’ character whose only role is to thwart our heroes at every turn, his motivation being that he's all mean and evil and stuff. Seriously. Come up with something new.

It hasn't been funny since Dean Bitterman in The School Of Hard Knockers.

Also not fine is the show’s title, which allowed for a very cute butcher’s window series of adverts, but which seems less memorable and more meaningless every time I think about it. Is it meant to be a dick joke? Why not just ‘fresh’? Honestly, it sounds like something a rapist would call university students.

Maybe I’m being unfair on a new show; it certainly has potential, and talent behind it. But, Twitter, either I’m mad or that was a baggy, directionless, mostly unfunny forty-five minutes of comedy(-drama).

*Coupling, famously, managed to stretch this one scene out over three entire series.