Every now and again, the vapid, repetitive drab the nation is exposed to on our TV screens is shattered. A radical piece of promotional media catches our eye and we are instantly transfixed – What is this fresh drama? Why is there phallic fruit everywhere? What will the Daily Mail say this time? These are the thoughts that rapidly shot through my mind as I witnessed the disembodied face of Vincent Franklin being jabbed by a long, thick cucumber on an advertising board in the middle of Newcastle train station. My relentless curiosity found me browsing a page on Channel 4’s website for Russell T Davies’ new trilogy series on the modern gay experience. I was hooked, obviously.
The series is named after the stages of the male erection, and fittingly so, as Cucumber opens with the protagonist, Henry, enjoying the delights befitted to an average supermarket; fresh fruit, fresh meat and fresh hunks. The beautiful montage is brought abruptly to an end, however, as Henry glances in a mirror on leaving the store and is brought tumbling back down to hopeless, flaccid reality. He is a middle-aged gay man, completely dissatisfied and disillusioned, not only with his job, but with sex, his partner and his life in general. He resents his friends and almost his sexuality to an extent, as he vocally shares his cynical, sarcastic musings of contempt towards his partner and peers throughout the introduction of the episode. Yet through all of this, I couldn’t help but admire Henry. Even relate to him, to some extent. Russell clearly expresses the boredom that sometimes comes with the ongoing subculture of homosexuality through Henry, especially when you find yourself at the bottom of an already ostracized social group.
Rather predictably, Henry then goes on to face a series of cataclysmic events that compromise a standard, queer mid-life crisis. A spontaneous date with his long-term partner Lance goes awry, and the proposal of a threesome ends in absolute disaster. On top of this, Henry’s work for his Master’s degree is plagiarised and a family torn apart at his hands, all whilst he dances around his room to a bit of Kylie. The way these rather mediocre events unfold, however, is superbly written. The humour is outlandish, silly and almost far-fetched to some extent, and this reflects perfectly the over-exaggerated camp humour adopted by the gay community – a true celebration of the subculture’s legacy. On several occasions I had to suppress belly laughter, and I was often reduced to school-girl-like giggles at the brash, unrelenting sexual humour that abounds. This was the first occasion I’d laughed at a TV series so much in a very long time.
Fitting the theme of E4 spin-offs, Banana, the second part of the trilogy, is Cucumber’s younger, sexier and spunkier counter-part. This episode follows 19-year-old Dean (Fisayo Akinade), an embodiment of the young gay man bumbling through adult life. Dean’s storyline intertwines with the main storyline featured in Cucumber, exploring these side-characters in a maintained, in-your-face humour; expect chastity belts and premature ejaculation. Each episode of Banana explores a different character’s story, and this gives great potential to cover a huge range of topics in LGBT life. In this episode, Dean struggles to pay the rent for his new chic warehouse pad in central Manchester and has only a day to find the money, resorting to the dreaded visit of his Parents, who he claims are bigoted, homophobic burdens that overwhelm the stereotypical gay young man, but the reality is very different. Along with the public transport fantasies and Geordie flings, Banana truly is Queer As Folk for the Grindr generation.
Finally, Tofu, a 4OD exclusive, follows the documentary format, discussing different areas of sexuality with the cast of the drama and other notable figures. From porn stars to sex addicts to Hailey from Corrie, individuals are invited to an (extremely) frank discussion of their own sex life, covering topics that range from female ejaculation to the relationship between sex and love. The anecdotes that are shared are shocking, funny, insightful and inspiring, and perfectly exemplify how surprisingly clueless we all are when it comes to sex. One of the main things I got from this short episode is how little sex is a topic of conversation, specifically the details, and so when we hear about the ins-and-outs of an older ladies clitoris in the documentary, we’re forced to celebrate and muse on the topic in a mature, thoughtful way. The episode also features a short, satirical story that reminds me of Charlie Brooker’s ‘Black Mirror’ series, envisioning a future where dating apps like Tinder are pushed to the extreme. If Cucumber and Banana don’t quite hit the spot, Tofu will definitely give you that pleasure you’ve been craving.
The trilogy didn’t disappoint. Russell is back on our screens with unstoppable force; very here and very, very queer. Queer As Folk was near revolutionary back in its hey-day, and now that we live in a society that treats homosexuality as a norm and of equal value to heterosexual relationships, Russell’s new series will have to push boundaries even further to cause as much of a storm. But as far as things go in these three first episodes, I think Russell is on his way to doing just that.