“Cucumber & Banana”
The Return to Manchester
Henry (Vincent Franklin) is a successful, 40-something gay man living in Manchester with his partner Lance (Cyril Nri). Something happens and in two days his entire life goes haywire when a simple inquiry about potential plagiarism results in a colleague’s suicide and he gets suspended from work without pay. Then he barely considers Lance’s suggestion that they should get married, which ends up with a disastrous threesome and the couple breaking up. Henry moves on to live with a very much younger guy, Freddie (Freddie Fox)
Henry goes to live in what is essentially a squat with the much younger Freddie (Freddie Fox) and Dean (Fisayo Akinade). Both of these young men are drawn to a slum because it is somewhat faux-bohemian in nature. Henry lusts after Freddie, who he knows has a reputation for sleeping with an endless string of men and women, whether singly or in groups. Freddie tells Henry bluntly that they will never have sex, but Freddie does not give up hope. Or at least he hopes they’ll have everything sex can bring except actual intercourse, as despite nine-years with Lance and many men before that, Henry has never actually had penetrative sex with a man. Various stories surround this major plot and these include Henry’s adventures with other teen boys and then he would sell the stories on the Internet, Lance’s affair with Daniel (James Murray), who one moment is insisting he’s just about the straightest person on the planet but the next is giving Lance signals that even the most brazen gay man would not do.
Some of the series is really good but there are a lot of problems including the director’s attempt to take on all of modern sexuality—from young boys in their teens to old men who are past their prime but who still go for the young guys with their youth and good looks. These are the guys who thinks that there is always another guy who is better than the one they are with.
It is hard to identify with any of the characters and this is major fault of the series. Henry is an interesting person but he is also very selfish and this seems to be true for many of the characters. The guys that seem to be nice turn out to be imbeciles, exploited or stalkers. The stories are good but the characters are just unfortunate. When Davies did “Queer as Folk” he used the idea of a person not like the others (Stuart) and who would give “his own unvarnished, blistering, self-centered version of the truth.” Here a lot of the characters do that and this is why we do not see them as nice people.
Nowhere does the program show that people are being gay is good, but being critical isn’t the same as being homophobic. The series has a bit of misanthropy about it, “often giving off the sense that everyone and everything is beyond hope, and some have mistaken that for internalized homophobia.” As we near the end, things begin to change but it seems a bit late. The central idea appears to be that we can only expect short moments of genuine happiness in between people being selfish, thoughtless and unpleasant to one another and this is because all men, regardless of age, think with their penises and misery soon follows.
Nonetheless, there is a lot to like about “Cucumber.” It’s complex and ambitious and really tries to engage with gay life in a way that’s rarely been seen – even if it remains a little more sex-fixated than many men would like to believe they are.
There are times where the characters start to seem more like a complex series of traits and interactions than people and we feel that the series is judging modern culture. In “Banana”, a separate series we see eight individual tales of which some are brilliant.
On DVD “Cucumber” and “Banana” are split into two separate sets of discs. However, as each episode of “Banana” relates to a character in the same episode of “Cucumber”, it’s really best to watch them together, but that can be tricky here. They do still work separately but it isn’t quite the same experience.
There are some good special features though, including an interesting history of Manchester’s Canal Street gay district and an interview with Russell T. Davies. The series is ambitious and always interesting if not always factual.
Special features list the following; ‘Screwdriver’ Short Film, ‘The History Of Canal Street’ Featurette, Russell T Davies Interview, ‘Julie and Vince on…’ Conversations, ‘Behind The Scenes’ Featurettes for each episode, “Banana” Cast & Crew Interviews.