TV Review: Cucumber, Banana, Tofu

Three new dramas explore gay life for different generations. reviews

Cucumber hp GQ 22Jan15 channel4 b 1083x658

Rating: ★★★★☆

Cucumbers, bananas, and tofu were all being waved around in plentiful supply in the first round of episodes of the long-awaited trio of series by Russell T Davies. Davies is known for fantastic characters and writing in all his series, but ascribing him these traits does him an injustice. Davies’ stand-out trait is his ability to contrast the amazingly outrageous with sheer realism.

By description, the series – about the contemporary gay scene in Manchester – sound like a rehash of Davies’ 1999-2000 Queer as Folk which, outside of originality, is no bad thing. As it happens the series are original, given the vast developments in gay culture since the turn of the millennium.

Cucumber, the centre-piece drama, follows middle-aged gay man Henry, who is finding it increasingly difficult to cope with long-suffering, well-meaning Lance, the social life he is compelled to participate in, and most of all his own self-pitying self. Between contemplative theories on Ryan Reynold’s sexuality and rejecting Lance’s marriage proposal, Henry is very funny and intelligent despite his clear selfishness and disinterest in life. A problem with many series is that the central character is actually quite banal while it’s the characters that hover around them that are genuinely entertaining, but this is not the case in Cucumber – Vincent Franklin does a great job of making Henry both appealing and repulsive in his juxtaposition-ridden style.

Banana is more comedic but nevertheless works as drama. Whilst both shows will appeal to a younger demographic, Banana seems exclusively aimed at them, in the same vein as Skins and The Inbetweeners. This week follows Dean, who had appeared in Cucumber interacting with Henry and inadvertently enticing him into a more youthful lifestyle. Despite having quite a tragic introduction, it managed to quickly move to the hilarity of Dean’s management of an active sex life whilst simultaneously wearing a chastity belt. Dean is the stand-out character for me so far – he’s wonderfully sweet and incredibly sharp in dialogue despite appearing completely naïve and short-sighted.

Any film or show whose primary focus is homosexual characters runs the risks of giving a misleading presentation of what being gay entails. Cucumber and Banana avoid this, in that they don’t strike me as being just about being gay, but much more about sexuality and the everyday impact it has on a variety of character, whether reserved or flamboyant. As with Davies’ running of Doctor Who, the messages and entertainment value revolve around what is universally realistic embedded in a fantastical context.

Topping off the phallic fiesta of titular innuendos is Tofu, which is viewable on 4oD and takes the format of short documentaries regarding sex, dispelling myths and opening discussions. Tofu is quite nice and interesting, but I have doubts of its lasting powers with the viewers. I feel that to take the three series as a whole, it matters not just how they complement one another but how each stands on their own. Unlike the other two, Tofu would be rather unappealing to the audience that is generated as a result of the inter-series link.

Cucumber, Banana, and Tofu have massive potential and may well fulfil it if they can keep at the solid level they have done so far and show more of the likeable and entertaining characters.