Sunday, 6 August 2017

FRESH MEAT S3 & 4: Go with Vod

After a rather lacklustre attempt at reviewing the Fresh Meat Season Two, the Midnight Ramble presents a (hopefully) more coherent and fully rounded review of the last two seasons. Ultimately, it felt better to review these seasons together, since they are basically following the same extended story, with the same overriding theme. The theme for these seasons is 'what have I got myself into, and how do I get out of it?' Each character is stuck in a situation, at least partially of their own making, and this season is all about how they react to their individual crises. Spoilers: not well.

After a slow start, Season Three hits you with a series of gut punches that help make this the most emotional complicated and engrossing season so far. Even Kingsley and Josie's pettiness is not as risible as the last season.

Episode One introduces our 'heroes' as they about to go on a downswing. Simon finds a girl who likes him, but is too scared to do anything about it. Thinking he and Heather (Sophie Wu) have broken up, Kingsley tries to re-start things with Josie. Vod and Oregon return from their travels through South America, only to find Vod's paramour from their trip, Javier, has followed them home. Oregon gets tired of being their translator, while Vod quickly realises he has no intention to leave. Kingsley and Josie re-kindle their romance, but he then finds out that Heather's lack of communication was because she was looking after her grandfather, who is dying. Meanwhile JP spends the episode trying to get some.

Episode Two compounds the ensemble's collective flaws. Kingsley is back to being an asshole -- he is still carrying on a long-distance relationship with Josie while not breaking up with his current, and frankly, more suitable girlfriend. Kingsley dodges a confrontation with Heather and Josie when his girlfriend dumps him after her grandfather dies.

Speaking of characters digging their own graves, Vod marries Javier and Simon -- still too scared to admit that he likes Sam -- gives up a chance to have a girlfriend.

Episodes Three to Five then track our heroes' decline: Vod dumps her new husband in a department store, a strategy which does not end up solving her problem (he comes back). Meanwhile, JP's obsession with Sam leads him to assemble a quiz team to win the quiz night she has set up for cancer -- JP cheats, gets caught out and blows his chance. While most comedies would end this emotional fallout at the episode credits, the writers push this through the rest of the show.

Increasingly lovesick, JP takes half the household to join him in a three-day paid drug trial. As usual when they are stuck together in a new environment, they end up going crazy and causing trouble. One brief spark of hope is offered when Kingsley thinks he has cancer -- sadly he doesn't, and we are forced to endure his navel-gazing for another season-and-a-half.

Meanwhile Oregon has written a play based on the household. While it is meant as a commentary on the other housemates, Vod ends up taking on her role, which derails Oregon's original intent. The sweetest moment is when the show bombs -- while Oregon's play is trashed, Vod gets great reviews. This is the point where Vod and Oregon's trajectories began to shift, culminating Vod and Oregon going head-to-head in the election for student union president.

The fifth episode is the highpoint of the season. Vod's mum visits, and her housemates finally get an insight into Vod's past. Vod's mother turns out to be a violent drunk with no impulse control. Dod has basically had to act as her mother's guardian, cleaning up in her wake. When she destroys the house following one of her binges, Vod finally snaps and confronts her. Despite her antics, Vod has been a somewhat remote figure until this point, and from this episode on, the character becomes far more vulnerable.

This episode is largely free of laughs, but it is the most emotionally resonant episode of the season. Some comedy is provided by a subplot in which Simon becomes a radical feminist, but the rest of it is played straight. In fact, from this point on, the series default setting shifts from comedy to drama. Vod is basically the cast's canary in a coal mine - when the good times end for her, you know something fundamental has shifted with the show's direction.

After a couple of years, Fresh Meat returned for a final six episodes. Despite the gap in time, there is no real difference with the preceding episodes. Rather than abetting, the darkness of Season Three continues into the final episodes. This season is a real endurance test, as the ensemble are finally confronting the future.

JP has to battle his brother Tomothy, Kingsley tries going out with an older woman and Oregon becomes president of the student union but finds her ambitions are outstripping her abilities in the role. Meanwhile ostensible outsiders Vod and Simon tackle their own respective crises: Vod has to deal with her massive student loan; Simon has to get his brain around the whole idea of existing outside the university environment.

While their problems are clear to the viewer, it takes until Episode Three, when the guys go to London for job interviews that these problems become self-evident; Simon gets separated from the guys and has to find his own way in the big city. Of course, while Kingsley and JP go in too confident and blow it, Simon's dress sense and particular set of skills wind up serving him well.

Drowning in debt and afraid that she has failed her dissertation, Vod moves to a commune. Meanwhile, Oregon's presidency is brought to a halt after several questionable financial decisions turn the student body against her. After trying to rally the student body with an impromptu song, she gets impeached. And fails to get her Fulbright scholarship.

Ultimately it is the outsiders who are leaving university the most ready for the outside world: Simon succeeds at getting a job, while Vod manages to leave uni with higher grades than Oregon and a new sense of self-worth. Her parents don't show up for her big day, but it does not matter. Vod's won.

Previous reviews

Season One

Season Two

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