Much like its characters when they stepped into that grotty student house for the first time, we weren’t entirely sure what to expect when Fresh Meat hit our screens last year. I mean, hadn’t we seen enough dirty teen comedies already?
But by the end of its eight-week run on Channel 4, we wanted to be best friends with the likes of Kingsley (Joe Thomas), JP (Jack Whitehall) and especially Peking duck-drying Scottish oddball Howard, played to perfection by Greg McHugh.
As anticipation for the second series of Fresh Meat reaches dangerous levels, Digital Spy caught up with McHugh to ask what’s coming up in the new episodes, whether he’s a fan of The Inbetweeners and how the success of Whitehall’s Bad Education has gone down with the team..
So what can we expect in Fresh Meat series two?
“Howard gets a part time job at an abattoir, which was a lot of fun to do, though under the lights it was pretty disgusting and sinking because it was real meat.”
“Oh yeah. I mean we didn’t kill any animals on set or anything.”
What else is there?
“Potentially Howard may get a bit of action, a bit of lady action, finally. It’s been a long couple of years for Howie in that regards so, yeah, it’ll be interesting to see how he gets seduced or seduces the lady. It’ll be good fun.
“What else? Howard tries his hand at being a sleuth. There’s a crime in the house and Howard’s responsibility is to solve that. He does his own investigation into the crime, which was a lot of fun indeed.”
In the first series there were a few flings between the Fresh Meat characters; can we expect any of those old romances to reignite in series two?
“I think what I can say about old housemate romances is that this year they become even more complicated.”
Josie (Kimberley Nixon) and Kinglsey are meant to be, aren’t they?
“I couldn’t possibly confirm or deny that. Let’s just say that storyline is not straightforward. I think they probably are meant to be together in a romantic Dawson’s Creek way, but it doesn’t quite work like that.”
Anticipation for the second series of Fresh Meat has been huge; we get readers writing in about it all the time. Did you and the rest of the team feel a lot of pressure to live up to expectations?
“We invest very heavily as individuals in the show when we’re performing, but the pressure ultimately is on the writers. We do feel the pressure, but once we got the scripts and saw how good they are for series two that pressure is reduced.
“When you’re doing the show you just enjoy the scripts. The scripts are brilliant this year – they were brilliant last year as well, but they’ve really been written for us this year. There is pressure, but I love doing it and I think that’s a good sign.”
You say the scripts were tailored more towards each of your characters; do you think then Fresh Meat has found its footing this year?
“I don’t want to say that in terms of dismissing it last year. Half the battle of a first series, certainly with the number of characters that Sam Bain and Jessie Armstrong are writing for, [is] it’s very difficult to introduce them. Hopefully the audience have bought into the characters and we start a little bit further down the road.
“Having said that there are new characters we need to introduce. The first episode of series two, there’s already loads of hype around it and you just have to trust [in it]. A show has to build, it has to go somewhere.”
You did briefly mention the new characters – are you allowed to say anything about them?
“Yeah, there’s a mature student that moves into the house and Kingsley meets a girl who’s present a lot in the new house. Those are the principal new characters. They’re great additions.”
Do you think Fresh Meat would be able to work if someone left the ensemble?
“I don’t know is the honest answer to that. I think Sam and Jessie are so skilled with their characterisation and writing that if we didn’t have the characters they’d find a character or two to introduce to the show.
“However, on a personal note I would really hope that all the principal actors, if we have an opportunity to do another one of them would do it, because I love working with them. So it could work without a core number, but I hope that wouldn’t happen.”
Do you think you can pinpoint why the first series was such a hit and why people responded to it in the way that they did?
“The difficulty of doing a university show is that a lot of people have been to university now, so if you write a show that doesn’t really reflect people’s time, doesn’t really reflect the characters that a lot of people met, then people are gonna turn off to that. So that’s one of the reasons, it was very accurate in terms of characterisation.
“The jokes are brilliant and you have to tell a story. To combine telling an interesting story with brilliantly written characters is the most difficult thing to do. I’m not saying the show got absolutely everything right, but I think it pretty much did.”
Did you foresee how big Fresh Meat would become right at the beginning?
“When I first got the part I thought without a shadow of a doubt the scripts were brilliant, but there’s been great scripts in shows that haven’t quite worked in the past and were not that well received. But when we started shooting I did really believe in the show, but you never think it would get the response it did to be honest. The elements are there for it to work, but you never know to be honest.”
When Fresh Meat first aired a few people did try and compare it to The Inbetweeners; do you think it’s made a name for itself now?
“Yeah, definitely. Without a doubt. The Inbetweeners is a great show, but I don’t think Sam and Jessie and the writers have really given that a second thought. It’s clearly a different show, the tone of it, and its 45 minutes as well, which changes a lot in comedy when you have to tell more of a story. So I think it’s defined itself incredibly well.’
I have to ask as well about your co-star Jack Whitehall’s Bad Education, which has been a great success for the BBC. Have you seen it at all?
“Yes, I have. It’s brilliant. He’s done a great job. Everyone’s just really, really pleased for him. Jack is incredibly hard-working, ridiculously hard-working, so you can only be pleased for Jack to be honest.
“I mean, he’s a child and he draws penises on the time – he’s a hard-working child and a talented child who made a great show. He was writing Bad Education during Fresh Meat last year.”
Did you help him out then and give him some ideas?
“Don’t be ridiculous, I’m not that pleased for him!”