By Alice Moore | Head of Review
One year since the radio debut of ‘Freshers’, Xpress Radio is back with a vengeance. ‘Freshers 2’, written by Giles Cosgrove and directed by Maisie Granger, follows a new gang of first-years and the highs and lows of their university experience. There’s fresh blood, and even fresher drama.
This series surrounds an iconic group of five protagonists: Harmony (May Thompson), Jenny (Charlotte Grant), Nia (Aeronwy Withers), Luke (Luke Knights), and Will (Austin Hampshire). Once again, the plot unfolds over six 20-minute episodes and clearly introduces the characters, their motivations, and their backstories just in time for the action to begin.
I can understand that topics like these are difficult to talk about, let alone act out, so the cast and production team have my full respect.
‘Freshers 2’ was not afraid to address serious and taboo issues such as virginity, class struggles, and gender reassignment. It broke down the ‘safety barrier’ that the first series seemed to have, which I think was extremely brave. I can understand that topics like these are difficult to talk about, let alone act out, so the cast and production team have my full respect. This level of authenticity took the series from a romanticised and fictional version of university life to a realistic and gritty representation. Despite its uncensored approach, however, it does not intend to scare or deter.
Episode one, unlike the first season, did not immediately throw us into the action. Instead, we’re introduced to the characters one by one going about their day-to-day lives – a change that I enjoyed. Kind Harmony and shy Will go on a date, but this gets interrupted by Will having to rush to work at the bar. Trying not to let this get to her, Harmony and her flatmates Nia, Jenny, and Luke go and visit him on shift, but tensions rise and the night ends with the group causing a disruption and risking Will’s job. This sets the tone for the series and helps the audience to identify the personalities of our protagonists and speculate as to how these will collide in future episodes.
From the offset, Jenny is (in my opinion, wrongly) set out as the antagonist due to her privileged upbringing and sheltered opinions, but I personally believe that this is out of unconscious bias, rather than purposeful ignorance. At her core, I think she just wants to fit in and feels genuine guilt for her comments toward Will. Instead, Nia appears to be the perpetrator of the conflict – the ‘Pick-Me Girl’ who acts too cool for everyone and refuses any self-reflection for the sake of her ego. I think that it is important to represent the fact that childish people do not cease to exist after high school, and that unfortunately, some people simply cannot adapt to the independent and mature lifestyle that university requires. I can imagine it must be difficult to play the role of the bully, but Aeronwy Withers nails the tone and delivery perfectly.
Throughout both series, Cosgrove has used his creative outlet to share stories that validate the experiences of those who resonate with them.
A topical element of the series for me was the events of Episode 5. In my time at Cardiff University, spiking has been a prominent danger on nights out, and its appearance in Freshers 2 was very important to me. The whole scenario, even down to the security guard stating that “it was her own fault” and the reluctance of hospital staff to take Nia seriously, highlights the harsh reality of the lack of care specifically for women’s safety. Throughout both series, Cosgrove has used his creative outlet to share stories that validate the experiences of those who resonate with them. I have previously expressed my resonance with Pippa’s struggles with her sexuality in series one, and I feel like the taboo nature of series 2 allows many others to relate to the various aspects that it covers. I think that this is a really special part of the Freshers franchise, and makes it more than ‘just’ a radio show.
Watching Giles and the team develop their writing and production style – as well as seeing the plethora of talent that we have at Cardiff University – has been incredibly heart-warming.
On a personal note, last September I was asked to review the first series of ‘Freshers’ as my first article for Gair Rhydd, and ending the year reviewing the second season is a really lovely full-circle moment. Watching Giles and the team develop their writing and production style – as well as seeing the plethora of talent that we have at Cardiff University – has been incredibly heart-warming. I truly cannot wait for what ‘Freshers 3‘ has in store!
You can listen to the first episode of Freshers 2 here.
Picture Credit to Giles Cosgrove. No changes have been made to this image.