Rec Me Friday: Cucumber & Banana


REC ME FRIDAY: GET CUCUMBER & BANANA IN YOUR DIET


CUCUMBER & BANANA
Network: E4, Logo
Cast: 
Vincent Franklin, Julie Hesmondhalgh, Fisayo Akinade, Freddie Fox, Cyril Nri, James Murray, Con O’Neill, Letitia Wright
Created by: Russell T. Davies
Premise:  Exploring the passions and pitfalls of 21st century gay life in Manchester, England. It begins with Henry Best on the most disastrous date night in history.

 

Cucumber, the TV project’s main series, centers on the aftermath of Henry Best‘s decision not to marry his partner of nine years, Lance Sullivan. The refusal leads to disastrous events and encourages Henry to go through a midlife crisis wherein he decides to fixate on one day getting the chance to bed a young gay man.

A midlife crisis being spurred on by the allure of a beautiful young sexual partner is nothing new but there’s something peculiar about Henry’s crisis. Henry reveals that he’s never experienced penetrative anal sex and may actually fear it.

Henry is extremely arrogant, annoying, and shallow to the point of him being unlikeable but that underlying fear of anal sex is fascinating character trait to me.  Because as unlikeable as Henry is, I think Davies brings a unique perspective by confronting Henry’s issue in such a dramatic and comical manner. It’s funny and a little sad the lengths Henry will go to in order to avoid having sex. Henry desires sex and even proclaims that’s he waiting for the one perfect sexual experience but he never acts on it.

It’s a slightly different and unexpected approach to a stereotypical storyline.

The actual writing and development of the series can certainly be argued but at least, Davies attempts to approach modern queer life with a fresh and different perspective. There are no dramatic ‘coming out’ stories. Instead, queer sexuality is embraced by the characters and Davies chooses to highlight other aspects of being gay in the 21st century. The series nods to the cheeky JacksGap twins and even makes a storyline out of YouTube culture’s fascination with homoerotic teen boys. It’s very relevant to our current digital age.

Still, Davies’ perspective on the gay experience may be familiar for some considering that he created Queer as Folk in the past. Honestly, I’m more surprised at the number of POC actors that Cucumber and Banana casted. In Davies’ previous work, POCs mostly get regulated to roles as secondary or sidekick characters.

In Cucumber, the POCs never fully take centerstage but their presence is very much felt. Beside the notable white actors of Cucumber and Banana, there are less well-known POC actors from all races – black, South Asian, and East Asian. For this, I must commend Davies for because it really opens audiences up to seeing the talented British POC actors that deserve to be on screen more.

Lance Sullivan, a black gay man, becomes a pivotal character because he gets his own storyline in Cucumber and even an amazing standalone episode chronicling his life. Cyril Nri’s performance as Lance is simply wonderful.

Then there’s Banana. Banana is the companion series to Cucumber where background characters in the principal series get to have some of their stories told. The smaller episodic format of Banana allows for a variety of stories in which bisexual, lesbian, and transexual characters are allowed the spotlight.

  • In episode 2, up and coming actress, Letitia Wright plays Scotty who falls in love with an older woman and must deal with the consequences of stalking her. The episode is poignant and beautiful.
  • In episode 4, Bethany Black becomes the first trans actress to portray a trans character on British TV. The episode doesn’t revolve around her transsexual experience though. Instead, her episode deals with the humiliation she suffers from her sex tape leaking online.
  • In episode 6, an adorable lesbian couple go on their first date. It’s extremely sweet and charming.

There are these great episodes and more in which the characters are never strictly defined by their sexuality.

Obviously, Cucumber and Banana are not without flaws.

The series’ gay men are stereotypically driven by sexual lust, to the the point that it leads to dangerous ramifications. Meanwhile, the lesbian characters are shown in more emotional relationships and never allowed explicit sex scenes the same way the men are. I appreciate how the series provides interesting LGBT characters but still, it falls back on the conventional gender stereotypes.

I would also have liked to see how race plays into sexuality for these characters. I’m not sure I have much confidence in Davies’ ability to handle the matter properly though. Perhaps it’s better Davies chose to depict non race-specific stories even though race obviously plays a factor in many queer POCs’ lives.  I’m undecided on this.

Nonetheless, I still say that Cucumber, Banana and perhaps Tofu (I personally haven’t watched it) deserve to be watched because of its fresh take on the modern queer experience.


 

For UK audiences, episodes of Cucumber can be seen online here. The other series are also on the E4 site. For US audiences, Cucumber, Banana and Tofu is airing on Logo.