Review: Will Cucumber and Banana be the next ‘Queer as Folk’?

Nick Duffy January 21, 2015
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Russell T Davies’ new gay dramas, Cucumber and Banana, are set to kick off tomorrow. PinkNews reporter Nick Duffy takes a sneak peek at the first episodes.

I have a confession to make: I never particularly liked Queer as Folk.

I know that’s probably not a popular opinion on PinkNews, but I feel like I should be upfront. I could never connect to it on the level most people seem to. Sorry.

My expectations weren’t high then, when I first heard about the show’s spiritual successors from Russell T Davies – central Channel 4 show Cucumber, E4 spin-off Banana, which focusses on a younger cast, and on-demand documentary series Tofu, that also exists but receives little of the spotlight.

The concept of the three shows – outlined perfectly in the opening moments of Cucumber, in case anyone was tuning in for a vegan cookery show – is based on the scale for measuring the hardness of the erection.

Cucumber – the biggest and hardest of the three – follows middle-aged Henry Best (Vincent Franklin), who finds himself caught in a cycle of domesticity and office life.

Trapped in a stale relationship with boyfriend Lance (Cyril Nri), Henry is confronted from all sides by the nature of modern gay life – same-sex marriage and smartphones and threesomes galore.

The first episode almost feels at times like a gayer, smuttier version of Peep Show – there’s plenty of zingers (“No one says ‘Hashtag’ out loud anymore, it’s a bit BBC Three”) in with the drama – and there’s a hint of farce in everything that happens.

The episode does an adept job of introducing not only the central concept, but also a cast of somewhat-likeable characters, from Henry’s pushy co-worker to his circle of old friends.

It’s also worth highlighting that the social context of Cucumber couldn’t be more different from Queer as Folk.

In the time between the two shows,  the UK has seen gays in the military, an equal age of consent, civil partnerships, gender recognition, a relaxed gay blood ban, and same-sex marriage. Men like Henry have gone from the edge of taboo to pretty-much accepted.

Cucumber riffs off this expertly – one moment toying with the ‘mainstream’ nature of monogamous gay couples, before becoming wonderfully wild and outlandish.

Banana – shorter and softer than Cucumber – features 19-year-old extrovert Dean (Fisayo Akinade), and is much more consistent in its tone, packed into half of Cucumber’s runtime.

The first episode focuses primarily on Dean, his family, and flatmate Freddie (Freddie Fox).

While in Cucumber Henry is perpetually baffled by the modern world, Dean is every bit a modern gay – hookup apps are a huge presence, with guys sliding in and out of the plot with simplicity.

It’s a small part of the set-up that allows the show to explore things in a way that no mainstream gay drama really has before – without cultural baggage.

You’d be hard-pushed to find faults in either Banana or Cucumber.

Heartthrob Freddie hasn’t really had that much to do so far, perpetually smouldering in the corner – but will hopefully be more prominent in weeks to come.

The way the two shows weave together, as well, is something that needs to be approached with caution.

It was interesting to see Dean and Henry’s friendship from both perspectives, but anyone who remembers the hot mess of ‘Echo Beach/Moving Wallpaper’ will know the dangers of shows taking a twin dynamic too far.

There’s a few clumsy ‘teen dialogue’ lines that don’t quite work in Banana, as well – a reference to a pair of famous YouTubers, in particular, felt crowbarred in for a younger audience, and might send older viewers scrambling to Google. Mercifully, it doesn’t quite sink to ‘Skins’ levels of painful dialogue, though.

As Channel 4 just affirmed its commitment to LGBT diversity in a big way, it’s clear the broadcaster has sunk everything possible into the shows being a hit.

From the glitzy press launches, to frequent TV promo, to advertisements plastered across billboards and tube station platforms, the gamble is clear – and if the shows are consistent as their first episodes, the risk might just pay off.

Cucumber and Banana (and Tofu, I guess) will not be the next ‘Queer as Folk’. They don’t need to be. What they could be is something brand new.

Cucumber airs Thursdays at 9pm on Channel 4. Banana airs Thursdays at 10pm on E4. Tofu is available on 4OD.

More: banana, Cucumber, Gay, LGBT, Television

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