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By Joseph Morris
Stop the presses. Two of the Inbetweeners are back at it again. Not being the Inbetweeners, but trying to move on. Friday Night Dinner and Fresh Meat both returned, boasting ex-awkward teenagers Joe Thomas and Simon Bird, who seems doomed to try to shake off Will McKenzie until well into his 30s . Both Fresh Meat and Friday Night Dinner had fairly strong first runs, although it would be fair to say Fresh Meat was the best received.
The return of Fresh Meat introduces us to a few tropes of a sitcom subtly adapting itself, from Kingsley ‘peacocking’ to the invisible roommate conveniently moving out, allowing another actual character to move in. A shame, as unseen characters, like Maris in Frasier, can be among the best thing about a sitcom. Still, Fresh Meat stuck to what it does best, namely providing a platform for Jack Whitehall as JP, the public school toff who finds himself in the alien environment of a house filled with average students.
Normally a new character is the death knell of any self respecting sitcom, but the introduction of Giles, if he stays, was handled well om the whole. While JP’s sexual crisis was a bit Scrubs-like, too earnestly heartfelt yet nevertheless self-aware, on the whole the arc accomplished what it obviously set out to do.
While Friday Night Dinner struggles to establish a coherent narrative, the trials and tribulations of JP, Oregon and Shales and Kingsley and Josie, as well as Vod’s continuing struggles, ensure that Fresh Meat has the right mix of self contained vignettes and longer form storytelling. Friday Night Dinner, due to the nature of the situation, does not allow for this sort of progression.
The first episode of Friday Night Dinner, although focused on the childhood of the two brothers, taught us very little that was new. Paul Ritter spent most of the time with his top off, Tamsin Greig does an excellent job as the put upon mother, while Simon Bird and Tom Rosenthal are decent as the squabbling siblings. Mark Heap, who Green Wing fans will remember as the sexually-awkward Dr Statham is usually outstanding as Jim, the odd neighbour.
But throughout every episode, you can’t help but get the feeling that you’ve walked in on a play, so uniform is the cast and setting. Friday Night Dinner seems to fail to take advantage of the medium. One aspect in which it does stand out is in the quality of the physical comedy. Simon Bird, for so long abused verbally and physically, puts in another sterling performance this week as he is variously tied up, chased and drenched. Despite the outstanding slapstick, Friday Night Dinner’s alternative take on the sitcom format does leave a little to be desired.
Fresh Meat’s continuation of Oregon’s arc from the last series forms the most coherent thread of the latest episode. Charlotte Richie captures perfectly the essence of the put-upon middle-class humanities student coming to terms with both the challenges of leaving home and the trials of student life. On top of that, her relationship with Shales (Tony Gardner of The Thick of It fame) brings some much needed maturity to balance out the more puerile threads of her fellow cast members.
As expected, JP won line-of-the-week about four times over, the highlights being his eloquent defence of the moneyed society, by dubbing himself ‘Bantonio Banteras’ and his explanation of ‘peacocking’.
Both sitcoms mix moments of inspiration with occasional weak elements, but given the choice, sitting home amidst the bright lights of Cowley, I’d rather tuck in to an episode of Fresh Meat than sit down to Friday Night Dinner.