CHANNEL 4’s Fresh Meat has become part of the telly furniture. When that happens to a popular drama, the characters sometimes sit around on actual furniture and do little more than chat.
This can work, depending on the depth of our love for them, but now and again it turns out indulgent, if not disastrous – remember how badly This Life ended? Reconvening for a country house weekend, a favourite show expired through a combination of fierce hotel thermostat and crummy writing. Anyway, Fresh Meat returned for a third series with a lot of sitting around, though of course this is what students do all the time.
They loafed about in the flat, in the union bar – and best of all in Josie’s digs in Southampton, where she’d transferred to forget about Kingsley. Only Kingsley was in bed with her and, discreetly, they were “doing it”. Oregon was also in the bed because there was no room on the floor, so she said: “I’m having an involuntary threesome.” JP was on the floor and he said: “Right, that’s it, I’m having a wank.” This idea caught on as Howard and Vod woke from their subsidised-beer stupors. “Let’s have an orgy!” roared JP. “Come on, it’s all been leading to this. Let’s just throw ourselves into a sex pie!”
Puerile? Yes. Funny? That too. We know from Peep Show that writers Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain can do third, fourth, fifth series. These boys have staying power; much more than any course-hopping student fancying yet another gap year. And just because plum-coloured trousers have passed through their post-ironic phase, and just because lots of men who aren’t posh wear them, and just because Made In Chelsea has given us real upper-class twits to laugh at, that doesn’t mean that JP has outlived his comic usefulness.
He wasn’t getting enough sex; in pie form or any kind. He decided: “I’m pulling out my privilege.” To the host of the Southampton party, a traffic-lights party no less: “Would you kindly announce to your flatmates that a man with a Coutts Gold Card is in the house!” To a girl he fancied: “I could take you to a place on the Kings Road where Prince Harry got a handjob off an assistant manager of Abercrombie & Fitch.” To Howard who, incredibly, secured a date with the girl he fancied: “I don’t mean to be rude but she’s a proper human being. You’re the Pig Man of Arbroath.” JP is a fabulous fool, played with utter conviction by Jack Whitehall.
Since Agatha Christie’s Poirot is ending after almost 70 whodunnits, I thought I’d better look in on the show at least once. Is the Belgian ’tache-twirler still played by Angela Lansbury? No, David Suchet. The Labours Of Hercules took us to Switzerland, right up to the top of a chocolate-box mountain, and very quickly the funicular got clogged with snow. Maybe Poirot hadn’t been to the exact spot before, but he couldn’t have been entirely unfamiliar with a faded-grandeur hotel that was all-view-and-no-facilities or with his fellow guests/strandees/suspects: a countess with a dodgy Russian accent, a tragic ballerina who never got out of bed and her quack-physician, a Morningside frump, an alluring criminologist and her dog Binky, and a few chaps in possession of cigarette cases who were ruddy this and ruddy that. I kept wanting JP and Howard to pitch up, the ski-season berk and the yeti, and so require the sleuth to think outside the case, I mean box.
That wasn’t going to happen. Poirot hasn’t got to almost 70 episodes by doing anything different from before. Each inquiry – this one to catch a murderous jewel thief – must look like it could have inspired the Cluedo board game. Everything must be in its right place: ciggies in the cases, guttural sounds in the countess’s mouth, snow in the tunnel, finger of suspicion hovering over everyone, and Poirot referring to himself in the third person all the way up to the grand unmasking. “Why do you do that?” asked the phoney shrink. A twist of the old mouser – for the fourth-last time, indeed – and then: “It helps Poirot achieve a healthy distance from his greatness.”
I used to love Elvis Costello. Loved him all the way to the West Calder Regal for the 1980 Get Happy! tour of out-of-the-way hops. Then he got bored with pop and I’m afraid I didn’t stay with him for excursions into country, jazz and classical. Elvis Costello: Mystery Dance veered towards hagiography but hinted at a written memoir which, given his clever turn of phrase, should be a good one. Great old footage, too, of his dad in quiff and specs, a rubber-limbed singer with the Joe Loss Orchestra. Truly, Declan MacManus is his father’s son.