TV review: Cucumber / Banana / Tofu, Channel 4
Russell T Davies returns to fictionalising British gay life
In an interview with Channel 4, Russell T Davies insisted that TV for gay people was still ‘2000 years’ behind programmes aimed at the straights. Given that he’s talking a decade after making an enormous cultural splash with Queer as Folk (his last drama for the station), you can almost hear him inwardly sigh that very little appears to have changed.
This lack of ‘moving on’ perhaps explains Cucumber’s opening sequence in which bored insurance exec Henry (Vincent Franklin) wanders around his local supermarket salivating at a series of beautiful young chaps phallically handling various items of fruit and veg. Now try to imagine a drama about a late-fortysomething hetero bloke ogling a beautiful young woman weighing up a pair of massive honeydew melons. Up close and in slo-mo. You’re right: it just wouldn’t happen.
And what of the titles of this three-pronged exploration of sex in the 21st century? Cucumber, Banana and Tofu relate to the various stages of penile erectness. It’s unclear how this would have much relevance to the many women whose stories are told in both the standalone fictional Banana strand and the factual tales of Tofu.
What Cucumber certainly does have going for itself is unlimited energy. There’s a fair amount of brisk walking and snappy talking: imagine The West Wing’s Sam Seaborn and Josh Lyman being relocated from Washington’s corridors of power to Manchester’s Canal Street with an agenda shifting from Congress and marathon filibusters to threesomes and discoloured semen.
Allied to that are frantic clubbing scenes shot-from-above (à la Queer as Folk) to capture a writhing mass of sexuality, and when Henry gets ready for a date, his showering, dancing and dressing routine frenetically merges with various people desperately trying to get in touch with him about a serious case of plagiarism.
Cucumber succeeds best as a show about a middle-aged man beginning to see his life slowly ebbing away and grasping at a golden (if hugely unlikely) opportunity to breathe some life back into it. Meanwhile, the first slice of Banana charmingly mirrors the opening of Up with a live-action flickbook of a life hurtling towards its sad demise before showing how a snap decision can totally alter your fate. After that, we simply follow the story of a glib and shameless liar with premature ejaculation concerns. Creating likeable characters has never been part of Davies’ plan. Writing stories of people staring over the precipice is where he scores.
Cucumber starts on Channel 4, Thurs 22 Jan, 9pm; Banana starts on E4, Thur 22 Jan, 9pm; Tofu is available on 4oD from Thurs 22 Jan.