Archives for posts with tag: Joe Thomas

Sometimes it’s good to be proven wrong. The new relationship your friend starts that you think won’t last but then results in their eternal happiness. The idea at work you are convinced will fail but actually makes turning up that bit easier. Or, on a smaller level, where you feel a TV show has lost its way only to surprise you by a return to form.

Taskmaster did just this. After what I felt was a ropey series 5, series 6 then became one of my favourites, with series 7 nearly matching that. The fear of downward spiral ended as I was able to put the stumble in quality down to a blip.

I still had worries for series 8 though. The line-up unnerved me. Only one of the cast was a stand-up comedian, although two others admittedly were, just not known for it. The other two are comedy actors, who I feel struggle on environments like this, as there is a certain element of ad-libbing that doesn’t work for those who depend on a script.

If the first episode is anything to go by, I shouldn’t have worried. Sian Gibson, one of the actors, is actually very good at handling the spontaneous nature of the show, perhaps because Car Share, the show that made her a star, was largely unscripted. Joe Thomas, the other actor, struggles more, and looks hopelessly out of his depth. However, that is not necessarily a bad thing, as it makes him a convenient receptacle for his fellow panellists’ barbs.

The others (Paul Sinha, Lou Sanders and Iain Stirling) are also on good form. In the case of Stirling this is already bordering on excellent. Sinha is another potential walking punchline as he seems to be the contestant most likely to repeatedly make a pig’s ear of things.

The tasks remain as inventive as ever as well. The first episode saw everything from sexy ventriloquist dolls to competing powerful smells. For a show that depends so much on original and eccentric ideas, it is surprisingly still thriving.

Greg Davies and Alex Horne remain brilliant of course. It is impossible for them not to be. Having said that, an episode of Taskmaster where they are the funniest thing is a poor episode, as the driver should always be the contestants. Good news – they are not.

This show is one of my hours of unadulterated joy. If it can maintain this form I never want it to end. I was as wrong as wrong could be last time. And it has never made me more happy to be so.

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Fresh Meat is reaching its close as the students approach their final exams. It’s been a heady three years for them (longer for us viewers due to the gaps between filming), but adulthood awaits. This last season already seems to be ramping up the ‘tragi’ elements to the show, with past errors taking root and a horrible dawning on the whole group of the compromises they are going to have to make.

The most recent episode drew these most sharply, for three characters in particular. Firstly Kingsley, the character most likely to perform acts of pretentious berkery (is that a word? I’ve decided it’s a word), spelled out his dreams of being big in the music industry, only to be reminded that his degree didn’t remotely qualify him for it. His last three years had, in many respects, been a waste. He can’t even write it off as a mistake and must instead accept it has a gigantic error of judgement, one that is costing him £9,000 a year.

Then there is JP, whose ludicrous dreams of success in any old job he fancies doing are getting shot down. Instead, he faces a future in a dull, soul-sapping job that eliminates any joy from life. Still, at least it’s well paid. On a side note, when the career advisor said that the average graduate salary is £22,000 a year, both mine and JP’s jaw dropped. JP as that will come nowhere near close to funding his borderline aristocrat lifestyle, me because I have come nowhere near to earning that amount, even 8 years on from graduating. If JP s feeling like a failure for achieving that, God knows what I’m expected to feel.

Lastly, Vod, who is having the roughest time of all. All of her previous mistakes are haunting. Her lost scholarship means she is mired in debt, her failure to take her degree seriously means her dissertation really is all or nothing and she is still got too much of a streak of self-destruction to really rectify any of her problems or prevent herself from causing new ones. If JP and Kingsley are facing disappointment, Vod is on the brink of disaster.

Like a lot of good comedies, Fresh Meat raises some serious questions about our society. Firstly, do we really need 50% of kids to become graduates? Most jobs I’ve had could have been done by anyone who was willing to learn from scratch. The rise of apprentices came too late for my generation, and the ones who did them are mostly doing much better than me.

Secondly, when you bare the haphazard job prospects and questionable quality of some of the courses to prepare you for the real world in mind, is university worth £9,000 a year. I was lucky, I got in on the last year it was just a £1,000. I pity the poor sods who are coming out with £30,000+ of debt to be told by large swathes of society that all they have got from it is a piece of paper.

I hope deep down that at least some of the cast have a happy ending. Not because they necessarily deserve it, but because seeing six people thoroughly miserable at the end would be such a huge downer that it would make the previous high jinks look incongruous. Sadly though, giving even one of them a happy end could just be the most unbelievable thing of all. Now that is a depressing thought.

When should TV programmes be stopped? When they stop being good? Okay, fair point, but what about shows like 30 Rock or Arrested Development, that even post their high points still outclass their rivals. When ratings are poor? But then most of the best shows of the past decade wouldn’t make it past a handful of episodes. Mad Men and the like would barely have seen the light of day. At their zenith, when it seems it just can’t get better? On the surface that seems artistically the wisest option – but who decides when this is? The producers? The writers? The *gulp* critics?

Perhaps the only fair point to stop a show is when the stories have been told. The characters have got from A to B and, even if not every end is tied up or there is an unhappy ending for a select few, the audience is broadly happy with the destination. Which leaves us to question, why a third series of Fresh Meat? I mean, I love it, but the first two series told the story and it felt as if everything was complete. The group was dispersing. Second year beckoned and you felt as if everyone wanted to move on. We had reached the destination.

Instead, we have a third series that feels like a step backwards. Take JP for instance. Jack Whitehall plays him perfectly, although his critics would perhaps argue the level of acting he needs to do to play a posh berk is minimal. During the previous two series his front as the misogynistic, sex-starved, selfish, arrogant toff got stripped away to reveal an emotional vulnerability that if the character had been played by a less divisive actor would have been in the running for a BAFTA. Yet at the start of series 3 he was back to square one, bullying Howard, chasing women and generally being a pain in the arse.

The problem is, as anyone who goes to university knows, is you go back to your second year that little more cynical, that fraction more hard-nosed, with extra bit of common sense and street smarts. Yet none of the characters have, bar say Oregon, who seems to have completely flipped the other way in terms of character. She even seems unexcited by drugs now (speaking of which this is a second bug bear I had with the episode – since when was it funny to bully a first year into doing drugs? For that matter why did hard drugs have to feature at all? It isn’t The Wire).

Above all else, the question that bugged me is – what is the destination? What is point B? Is it Kingsley and Josie to be together forever? If so, do we need a whole series to get there? A one-off special would have suited this perfectly. And if that is the end point, what are the other characters supposed to do? Actors like Zawe Ashton and Greg McHugh need to be given more than just drifting in and out of misadventures whilst a love-struck couple moon at each other.

Perhaps I’m being too harsh. Maybe the next episode will demonstrate more clearly that there are more stories for the characters to tell. I do hope so, I would hate to see such a good programme be sullied because people didn’t know when to stop.