Author T.J.Masters reviews T.V’s Cucumber, Banana and Tofu
Did the title grab your attention? Did it trigger your curiosity? Did it need to? British TV viewers would need to have been living on another planet for the last few weeks and months not to have known that two great events were scheduled for last week. Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Russell T. Davies’s Cucumber, Banana, Tofu triad (CBT) were both much heralded and widely anticipated because both writers sit at the very peak of their different genres. Ms Mantel is the queen of Tudor monarchy and all its dramas. Russell T. Davies (RTD) is the ‘queen’ of all things gay on tv. That said however, I would now argue that CBT is a lot more than just gay tv.
Sixteen years ago RTD brought us the iconic series Queer As Folk. We were introduced to a collection of bright young things chasing each other around the Manchester gay scene. They all had soulless, aggressive, non-committal sex but the writing was brilliant and it changed forever, the way that gay life was presented on tv.
After that, Russell waved his creative magic wand over the old BBC Dr Who, added Torchwood and gave birth to a hugely successful global franchise. Clearly the ability to produce tv magic bestows great power on the writer. How else could he then have persuaded network bosses to take on three new series with heavy sexual content and broadcast them at consecutive times, across three different channels on Thursday night’s for eight weeks? Well he did and it happened and it was wonderful.
In the same way that Ms Mantel is an able chronicler of the Tudor period, so RTD is an expert chronicler of gay life and lifestyle. Not just the lifestyle as it has evolved since Queer as Folk (QAF), not just a timeline into the early twenty-first century, but a deeper look at how we grow and age alongside it. In QAF we related to the characters. Who didn’t have moments of envy over Stuart or want to be him? We also cringed at his behaviour and at times wanted to punch him.
Cucumber airs on Channel 4 and in some ways it is a follow-up story to QAF. The central character is the 46 year old Henry who will resonate deeply with many of us of a certain age. Gay middle age has never been so well portrayed on tv and if your only reference is the very witty ‘Vicious’ then prepare to have your opinions turned on their heads. As I watched the first episode I found myself jumping between wanting to give Henry an understanding hug and wanting to tip him into Canal Street’s famous waterway!
That first episode set the scene with Henry and his partner of nine years, Lance, having reached a crossroads in their comfortable but sexless relationship. Suddenly this was no longer just an outrageous gay story, it was the tale of any middle aged couple coming to terms, or not, with the autumn of their time together. The shock effect and the rampant penis innuendo of the opening scenes had drawn us in, but now RTD’s brilliance revealed itself and we were faced with the stories of stumbling relationships, fickle love, beauty, age and the mixed blessing that is sex leading to both happiness and misery.
I look forward to Henry’s story developing over the coming weeks.
Straight after Cucumber we change channels to E4 where Banana is shown as a set of eight individual portraits of some of the secondary characters from the Cucumber series. First up was wild child Dean who bounced through Cucumber, notably waving his chastity-locked tackle at anyone who stood still long enough for him to drop his trousers. Like everyone in these tales the young actor gave an inspired performance and we can look forward to seeing a lot more of him throughout the Cucumber series. There he is one corner of the unlikely three-way flat share with Henry and the beautiful, bisexual, nymphomaniac Freddie.
It is a measure of RTD’s great skill as a writer that he has written eight powerful portraits of very diverse characters and each seen from their own point of view. I can’t wait to see episode two of Banana where he writes as a lonely young lesbian.
If you are not drained of all emotional energy after this unrelenting two hours, then it is time to switch to the on-demand channel 4OD for Tofu. This is a web-based, factual series presented as a guide to sex. Not just gay sex but straight, trans, black, white, young or old and everything in between.
The images will titillate us and we will love or hate the characters. I firmly believe that the well written stories will stay with us a lot longer than the giggles. Once again RTD has given us a game changing pallet of great stories and memorable characters. It frustrates the hell out of me that the people who need to watch this are the very ones who will avoid it. For those of us who do watch it all, Thursday nights will never be the same again.
For writers who struggle with the patience which our craft demands. I read one powerful anecdote about RTD and Cucumber. Apparently the final words from Henry at the end of the series were written by Russell some ten years ago. All he needed was the right character to deliver those words and now I can’t wait to hear what he says.
Writer of m/m romance and BDSM stories.
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Mourning the sudden loss of his parents in a car crash, experienced Dom Eric Broderick escapes London society and his high-pressure law firm and retreats to Glebe House in Pittlesburne, a small village in Buckinghamshire. He tours the nearby woods and the charming village, but it’s really the guesthouse’s garden he’s taken with—or, rather, the gardener.
Tom Bestwick maintains the grounds of Glebe House for his fiancée and does odd jobs around the village. With little experience outside Pittlesburne, Tom finds fulfillment through his true passions, rugby and art. He has just one unrealized desire—one the guesthouse’s new occupant would be happy to help him with.
Late one night, while walking through the garden to clear his mood, Eric spies Tom enjoying a BDSM video starring two men. Having a sub to train might just help Eric forget his troubles, but as their feelings deepen, the real world intrudes. Eric can give Tom everything, but not until Tom decides where he’s meant to be.