‘Fresh Meat’ press launch report

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Yesterday we went along to University College London for the launch of Channel 4’s Fresh Meat, the latest offering from Peep Show creators Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong.

Perfectly timed to coincide with the start of the academic year, the new eight-part series follows the misadventures of six Manchester university students, three girls and three boys, during their rocky rite-of-passage to something that may just pass for maturity.

When “hard-living” Vod (Zawe Ashton), “socially-awkward” Howard (Greg McHugh), “small-town” Josie (Kimberley Nixon), “terrified of being boring” Oregon (Charlotte Ritchie), “sensitive yet insecure” Kingsley (Joe Thomas, aka Simon from The Inbetweeners) and public schoolboy JP (Jack Whitehall), with his “inflated sense of entitlement”, all find themselves sharing a house, the stage is set for a comedy-drama of errors in which different backgrounds, hang-ups and genders clash to hilarious and sometimes cringe-worthy effect.

The series creators admit to drawing on their own memories of university for the show. Of socially-awkward Howard, Jesse says, ‘Everyone knew a version of a Howard,’ though fellow writer Sam, who says that ‘the fun of writing anything is you can put bits of yourself in everyone,’ admits, ‘I never really knew a Howard. Maybe I was one.’

The first episode shows relationships between characters forming as fast as they do among real-life freshers – hates, attractions and friendships between mutually-admiring opposites all appearing (and in one case disappearing) as swiftly as you can say ‘pot-noodle dinner’ under the pressure of a totally new environment. But there is a depth to the characters apparent from the start. Their longing to break through their fears and become more than the schoolchildren they were not so long ago shows through the various stereotypes they wear, taking them in interesting and sometimes unexpected directions.

Not surprisingly, their attempts to extend themselves can backfire with a mess worthy of Icarus. There’s awkward sex between two characters who don’t even like each other, while ostracism looms for one character in particular. As Joe Thomas explains, ‘Freshers try to imply they’ve seen all this before but they must have lived with their parents. Your experience is so limited.’

On working with a cast of six principal actors instead of Peep Show‘s two, writer Sam reveals, ‘It was fun to mix and match relationships.’ Working with a team of writers, some of them ‘annoyingly young and talented’, was also a beneficial experience when juggling a larger cast than they were used to on Peep Show. ‘Plotting is harder,’ says co-writer Jesse. ‘As many minds involved as possible helps. It’s easier to keep it long-running.’

The two main roles in Peep Show were written with the actors who played them in mind, but Fresh Meat relied on auspicious casting to get the right actors for the characters. While all the cast admit to being huge fans of Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong, Kimberley Nixon, who plays Josie, says she didn’t initially see herself doing comedy. Jack Whitehall, who was working as a stand-up comic when he auditioned for the part of JP, admits to loving the script and having wanted to act and work with Sam and Jesse, but being concerned about interrupting his other work.

According to Kimberley Nixon, the closeness that the cast developed through living and working together helped them avoid one of the potential pitfalls of productions that have both a large cast and a team of writers: psychological inconsistency. ‘Every so often something would be inconsistent – a line. The cast would all know,’ she says. Her experience echoes that of the other cast members. As Zawe Ashton, who plays ultra-cool rebel-girl Vod, puts it: ‘Six actors thrown into a show, not knowing each other – we bonded like students.’

Fresh Meat begins on Channel 4 this autumn.

> Order the Series 1 DVD on Amazon.

Watch the trailer…