Image: Channel 4

University on TV: a reflection of reality?

Student life is a very popular source of inspiration for TV shows, from juggling studies with living away from home for the first time, to making new friends and experiencing the student drinking culture, there’s plenty of content to make a relatable show. But how accurate are the depictions of the university experience in some of our favourite TV shows?

Perhaps the most obvious show when it comes to the theme of university is E4’s Fresh Meat, fronted by Jack Whitehall. Created by Peep Show’s Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain, the comedy series captures the university experience for a mismatched group forced to live in an off-campus accommodation. Fresh Meat humorously depicts every stereotype of students you could come across at university from the posh private school “lads” to the mysterious and somewhat antisocial international students. The show brilliantly captures the real stress of exams, with Howard who locks himself away in the cellar of their house to focus on revision and nothing else.

the guys meet four more Warwick students who introduce them to the concept of circling

Peep Show may not be such an obvious choice in the category of university TV shows, which follows the story Mark Corrigan and Jeremy Usborne, whose university days are behind them. But, in the episode ‘University Challenge’, Mark and Jeremy travel to their beloved alma mater “Dartie” (i.e. Dartmouth University). In the hopes of capturing the affections of a student there, Mark pretends to be a mature student and is welcomed into an Ancient History tutorial, despite having studied Business Studies back when he actually attended the university. The fact that he received such a warm welcome rather comically goes to show that your seminar tutor probably doesn’t remember a single one of their students, so really, anyone could turn up every week.

It’s almost impossible to write about TV depictions of university life, particularly that at the University of Warwick, without mentioning The Inbetweeners. This show follows four famously dysfunctional friends in the process of studying for their A Levels; while at college, they go on a trip to Warwick with the hopes that Simon can lose his virginity with girlfriend Tara, whose sister studies at Warwick. At Tara’s sister Sophie’s house, presumably somewhere in Leamington Spa, the guys meet four more Warwick students who introduce them to the concept of circling – a staple of life at the University of Warwick.  The group play drinking games and experience the weird and wonderful pre-drinks traditions before a night out.

Whatever the various TV shows make university life look like, everyone’s experience will be different

BBC Three’s thriller series Clique revealed a dark side to university life. Set in Edinburgh, the show follows the story of childhood friends Georgia and Holly who are a few weeks into the so-called best years of their lives at university. This show touches upon the seductive world of lavish parties and drug use which spirals into the girls finding themselves in very dangerous situations. While this is not a common occurrence at university, the show does accurately depict the difficulties and struggles of attending the same university as your best friend, and the complexities of maintaining a close friendship simultaneously with meeting new people and establishing a new circle of friends.

Whatever the various TV shows make university life look like, everyone’s experience will be different. If, however, there’s anything to learn from these, it’s perhaps to take ours studies more seriously than Jeremey, as when Mark asks him whether he ever appealed about his degree results, he explained: “I didn’t go to university to get a degree.”


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