What I loved most about Russell T Davis’ groundbreaking series Queer as Folk was its “no fucks are given” attitude. Its crudeness, sass and general feeling that it just didn’t care what other people thought was beyond liberating. In the first episode alone there was a scene involving a 15 year old boy being rimmed by a significantly older man. The show wasn’t apologizing, in fact, it was celebrating this boy’s sexual awakening, the colours and sounds of Manchester’s Canal Street shone through the screen in an exciting and tempting way, making the technically illegal antics of that first episode so enticing.
I was glad then, when I saw the first episode of Davis’ adaptation trio Banana, Cucumber and Tofu had not lost that fast-paced, wild and uncontrollable sexuality. The name itself was wonderfully obscene: the different foods referring to the different stages of an erection. Sex is what drives this series, and the celebration of sex in all its forms is at the forefront of the new adaptation, just as it was in Queer as Folk. Of course, sex isn’t all that its about. Davis uses the three separate series to encompass many different aspects of queer life, not just the stereotypical man on man we’ve had to see again and again in LGBT TV and cinema.
Cucumber is the father of the trio. An hour long, each episode follows the relationship of older gay couple Lance and Harry. They are old men living in a world made for the young. Their relationship breaks down for a number of reasons, but ultimately all it really comes down to is sex. As Harry puts it, he’s just looking for “one more cock”. They feel left out of the gay scene, which is catered only to the young, attractive males of Manchester, and this feeling of emptiness affects them both, ultimately leading to a dramatic breakup after a failed attempt at a threesome.
Cucumber is complimented by another series shown on e4 straight after called Banana. Banana is the younger, funnier sibling of Cucumber, focusing on some of the minor characters in the show. Each episode is its own story, exploring the life of a different character each time. This makes for a whole range of intriguing episodes which attempt to reach out to all corners of LGBT life (sometimes trying to fit in too much at one time). The feeling of modernity also comes through strongly in this series – technology is emphasized in many episodes, something I think is very important to include in any television series about young people. From the young boy who we see using Grindr at his parent’s dinner table, to the trans woman who’s private photos get leaked by her ex boyfriend onto Facebook. These experiences are not just relevant, but important to viewers nowadays who’s lives are being affected more and more everyday by their smartphones. Banana is fast paced and funny, although being only half an hour long, it lacks the some of the intimacy seen in Cucumber, and indeed some of its drama. What makes Cucumber so riveting is the suddenness of the tragedy that befalls one of its main characters, but without an ongoing plot, Banana feels somewhat dissatisfactory, I always feel like I want to know more of the characters in each episode, but you can only find out so much in a half an hour time slot.
Tofu is a bit of a different one. Shown exclusively on 4od, Tofu is a series of short videos interviewing real-life people on almost any and every aspect of sex. From topics such as coming out to why some people choose never to have sex, those from all walks of life give their opinions; porn stars, actors, YouTubers and even just housewives. The series is fun and the episodes are short enough to watch without getting bored, but in my opinion, the episodes are no less informative or entertaining than many YouTube videos you can find which cover sex and relationships. Tofu is definitely the weakest of the three, but it still serves its comedic purpose online as a web series.
Overall, I was pleased to see Russell T Davis had not lost his sensual and energetic writing in his new series, and I was especially impressed to see that he had not focussed the series entirely on the young crowd in the LGBT community, which is too often pushed to the front in gay TV. Cucumber felt like a story about what happened when the Queer as Folk boys grew up, but its daring sex scenes and new pushing of boundaries shows that Davis hasn’t lost any of the appeal which made his first LGBT series so groundbreaking.