herald

Thursday 16 August 2018

First class comedy

Fresh meat (Ch4), The Fades (BBC3)

IT SHOULD be apparent by now to anyone with a pair of eyes and a television that "teen" and "drama", when paired in the same sentence, are no longer dirty words.

The Inbetweeners and Misfits proved it's possible to make a youth-centric series with crossover appeal to all ages.

Two bright new arrivals on the same night underscore the point with panache. Fresh Meat, about six ill-fitting students muddling their way through the anxieties of a university house-share, may be the freshest, funniest comedy-drama of the year.

It's frequently vulgar, juvenile, foul-mouthed and over the top -- a lot like the average student, in fact. But coming from the pens of Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong, the men who wrote Peep Show, it's also inventive and hilarious, as well as deep-down sweet and surprisingly touching.

Kingsley (Joe Thomas from The Inbetweeners) is a sheltered, eager-to-please fresher who gives a little grimace of embarrassment whenever his small-talk comes out sounding awkward or stupid, which would be practically every time he parts his lips.

He's separated by a thin partition, with a convenient peephole, from Josie (Kimberley Nixon), an innocent Welsh girl who's trying just a little bit too hard not to be.

They're joined by Oregon (Charlotte Ritchie), a calculatedly over-confident would-be hipster whose every exaggerated claim is accompanied by a flick of the eyes to check no one in the room has smelled the bulls**t, and the ferociously tough and streetwise Vod (Zawe Ashton), who spent her year off working in a fish factory ("One day all the fish will be gone from the sea -- finally, victory!").

The senior member of the house is social misfit Howard (the splendid Greg McHugh), who's been living there for two years and has seemingly scared off all the previous occupants.

Hardly surprising, really, since when we first meet him, Howard is naked from the waist down and drying Peking duck with a hairdryer. "Sorry, I've just got used to wearing trousers of the mind," he tells an unfazed Vod.

Kingsley is immediately smitten by Josie, but she -- desperate to excel in the Losing Your Virginity module -- cops off at a party with JP, repellently posh with a horrible beard and a sense of entitlement as big as his daddy's no doubt very big car.

The morning after the night before, she's horrified to discover that JP, played with obnoxious relish by Jack Whitehall, has also been billeted in the house. He immediately begins to lord it over the rest of them, bribing Kingsley into surrendering the best bedroom and promising to pay for Sky TV in return for primary bathroom rights.

It's a tribute to the quality of Fresh Meat's writing and performances that a character as outwardly vile as JP emerges as sneakily likeable and, underneath all the braggadocio, a little vulnerable. Anything this good deserves to graduate with honours.

If the night's other newbie, supernatural drama The Fades, were a student, it would be kicked out of the exam hall for cribbing liberally from The Sixth Sense, Ghost and any number of Japanese horror flicks. There's also a bit of visceral, George Romero-ish action thrown into the mix.

Paul (Iain de Caestecker) is a troubled, bed-wetting teenager who suffers apocalyptic nightmares about the Earth erupting in a shower of ash and sulphurous smoke. By day, he's seeing ghosts.

After witnessing a zombie-like creature attack a gun-toting stranger in a disused shopping mall, Paul discovers the spirits are called Fades: dead people who have been unable to pass on to the next dimension.

The good ones remain benign if pitiable presences; the bad ones, however, turn into flesh-burning, life-sapping monsters, and it seems they're intent on breaching the veil and destroying the world.

Writer Jack Thorne has pulled all the bits together into such a smart, creepy and gripping package that the elements of plagiarism hardly seem to matter.

A C- for originality, then, but a B+ for entertainment value.



fresh meat HHHHI the fades HHHII

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