The final run of Channel 4’s undergraduate comedy came lumbering out of the starting blocks onto our screens this Monday past. With stunted pacing, rehashed subplots and an overshooting of the same erratic cynicism that saw the third series go careening off into ‘Skins like’ territory.
We’re slingshotted right into the thick of our ragtag group of misfits’ final term living in Hartnell Avenue with little reorientation as to how things have progressed, or regressed, since last we saw them. Lovable, introverted Scot Howard (Greg McHugh) has gone Carmen Sandiego, retreating into the peripheries of civilisation (the cellar) in a self-imposed revision exile, before the rest of the episode shifts focus to his hopelessly naive relationship miseries. Once again, his endearing facetiousness is on-form and one of the few sources of buoyancy found in the episode.
Most of the remaining characters all just sort of flounder around directionlessly. Vod (Zawe Ashton) resident ‘Super Hans with a vagina’ embarks on yet more drug-related hijinks. This time in an effort to bury her head in the sand from the Seattle Space Needle of debt looming over her, hitting up quirky Dutchwoman Sabine, (Jelka Van Houten) or ‘Walter White’ as she topically dubs her, for pills. Her indignation over being supplied with only one leading to one of the episode’s most memorable lines, as she sardonically asks whether it will “grow a magic beanstalk back to the fucking Hacienda 1990?”
Kingsley (Joe Thomas) and Josie (Kimberley Nixon) have mercifully moved on from their haemorrhoid of a romantic subplot that engulfed the previous series, but are herein treated as afterthoughts. Kingsley’s role is more or less relegated to having his pretentious hipster traits dialled up to eleven as joke fodder, and Josie’s brooding over the end of an era for the housemates.
It is the relationship between JP (Jack Whitehall) and his debuting brother Timothy that forms the crux of the narrative. Timothy’s no-bollocks façade and precise interweaving of erudite speech with F-bombs make him a vintage Armstrong and Bain creation. His character arc portraying his increasingly evident dissatisfaction with his working life as a burnt-out ‘desk jockey’ working 5 to 9 each day. While he passively cheats on his wife with the habitually odious Oregon (Charlotte Ritchie), who is likewise trampled underfoot by the burdens of her responsibilities as president of the student’s union and looking to seize on whatever opportunity she can find to cut loose. What will likely serve as this series’ thematic underpinning – doubts and fears over life beyond academia – is projected through the straining of the brothers’ relationship. Timothy wants to serve as the career Yoda for his brother, who he proclaims a “fucking great guy, but a clinical moron”. But JP, witnessing firsthand how jaded and disconnected it has rendered him, begins to have second thoughts and reassert his autonomy.
The entire episode comes across as a haphazard polymerisation of cut and paste subplots and Armstrong and Bain struggle to simultaneously utilise every character to their full potential. Excepting a handful of genuinely witty lines, the sinking feeling of déjà vu lingers throughout. But hey, the optimist in me wants to believe that the five remaining episodes will see a second wind carry the series toward a worthy denouement on par with that which Peep Show was capped off. Because, as Morrissey aptly sings, “heaven knows I’m miserable now”.
Image courtesy of www.theegdesusu.co.uk.