A new gay show is upon us. After the general sadness that ensued with the announcement that HBO’s Looking would be no more (at least not in proper season form, that is), we should consider ourselves lucky to find a rebound in the wonderfully plentiful three-part Cucumber, Banana, and Tofu. Creator Russell T Davies is chipping away for a future where television is 100% gay, all day long, and believes his work on queer culture will be the engraving on his tombstone. With this new series we get an engrossing modern update on the homosexual Manchester of Davies’ Queer as Folk, and I’ll be recapping each episode here as it premieres in North America.
So the curtains are drawn on the season premiere of Cucumber with a pastime I share with its antihero: checking out strangers in public. Although I’m the type, rather, to catch someone’s glance from across a subway car or supermarket aisle and instantly envision our wedding, Mr. Henry Best goes straight for the crotch. He is a 46 year old insurance salesman played by Vincent Alexander who, Davies admitted in recent press, isn’t “going to be asked to go shirtless on the front of Gay Times.” But the young men his eyes dart toward certainly are magazine cover material; Henry ogles their butts, bulges, and their deep-throating of bananas while he thinks in voiceover of a study a Swiss sex institute once conducted on the male erection. The four stages of hard-on were found comparable to grocery store products in terms of firmness, namely: tofu, peeled banana, banana and cucumber. An attractive gent strolls by and the show employs a quick cut of a cucumber to represent arousal; Henry turns a corner and accidentally comes face-to-face with his own reflection, and it cuts to tofu.
His ritual of casually fantasizing from afar is backed by a score that sounds a lot like a chorus of angels from on high, a clear high-point in the day to counter his uneventful home life. He lives with his boyfriend of 9 years, Lance (played by Cyril Nyr), and on the occasion of this episode the two are preparing to meet for drinks with their middle-aged gay gang. Henry bemoans the obligation throughout his entire prep routine, and Lance doesn’t seem to find it too bothersome — a little charming, even. “Oh GOD, I wanna go home,” Henry whines before even stepping foot into the gathering. “They’re gonna be all like ‘Oh hiii’,” he predicts with a flick of his wrist.
Spot-on, Henry’s gays greet him and Lance with the vocal flamboyancy we’ve come to know as synonymous with that certain genre of man. Over drinks Lance says must be paced due to age, we witness one of the series’ most noteworthy elements: its portrayal of the smartphone stronghold and the way it’s transformed the world into one giant gay bar. An attractive waiter (oh, all the burgeoning young men objectified in this series!) is briefly fawned over by the guys at the table, as the process from noticing his appearance to the scouting out of his Grindr profile, and then his Tumblr, and then his cum shot video, all happen at the speed of light. It seems reasonable to argue that the smartphone is the modern gay’s greatest weapon, but I cannot say I don’t know how Henry feels when he says “As of this moment the modern world has left me behind.”
The group’s giddy conversation doesn’t sound far from what tween girls might sound like going off about their celebrity crushes. These men would have never been granted this rite of passage in their youth — you know, getting together to gossip about which star you want to sleep with and absorb the validation of shared taste. So the 7 pals convene to gab about Tom Daley (“no one fancies him anymore now that he’s come out, all the fun’s gone!”), and Ryan Reynolds — a subject whom Henry delivers a sensual speech on that opens with a “I know for a fact that Ryan Reynolds is gay because there is nothing Ryan Reynolds loves more than cock.”
Oh, boys will be boys. Returning to their suburban abode, Henry and Lance act more like brothers than lovers and retreat to separate rooms to masturbate. The next morning a neighbour alerts Henry to the fact that she can see his silhouette jerking off through the blinds. Feeling humiliated and a little weak-spirited, he makes the fatal error of agreeing to go on a proper date that night with Lance.
At work, both halves of the couple have their fair share of eye candy to eat up. Henry has Dean (Fisayo Akinade), the mail boy who keeps him up to date with the latest trends, which include a modern chastity device he wears on his penis, and the faux pas of saying “hashtag” aloud — “It’s a bit BBC 3.” Then irresistible takes human form in Freddie (Freddie Fox), the Angela Hayes to Henry’s Lester Burnham. Instead of rose petals dripping from the sky, Henry’s fantasies play out in the quick whack of that cylindrical green veggie. Dean informs Mr. Best that he just moved in with Freddie, but that he’s way out of his league.
At Lance’s aquarium workplace he introduces himself to new guy Daniel: a dashing diver hailing from London who Lance, despite anticipation for the night’s date, is clearly attracted to. Daniel suggests they go out for a drink sometime before cautioning: “I mean to a normal bar — not your sort of place. I don’t want you leading me to the dark side… well not on the first night!”
Henry doesn’t come as close to flirting with his office crush — at lunchtime when gorgeous Freddie serves him, his “thanks Freddie” is only reciprocated with a vaguely dirty look. Instead, Henry must juggle tedious interactions with his sister Cleo over the phone, and his colleague Sunil. Sunil asks to borrow an essay from an obliging Henry, who later ponders to a work friend whether Sunil will simply plagiarize his whole report in search of a promotion — igniting a chain of events that lead to the discovery of Sunil’s history of taking credit for work that isn’t his, a revelation with the power to get him fired or even sent to prison. This entire succession happens in the form of missed calls, texts and voicemails Henry doesn’t pay any notice of because he’s getting ready for his big date. He puts on Kylie Minogue’s “Your Disco Needs You” full volume, and is instantly rocketed to some gay cloud nine.
Seated across from one another at the restaurant, Lance pops the capital-Q question. Will Henry marry him? Henry doesn’t take the surprise well — he never saw it coming, he doesn’t see any practical benefits, and although he doesn’t say it, he makes it very clear he’s not in love with Lance. The couple talks around it but a close-in on Lance’s face reveals the emotions that go on to make this The Worst Date Night In History: a little heartbreak, a lot more accumulated disdain.
They head over to Canal Street, Manchester’s gay village, and Henry purports that “no one goes clubbing anymore. It’s all online.” But Lance insists he get the date night he deserves, and a date means dancing, so before they know it they’re swept up in the flashing lights and pumping music of a packed nightclub — proving that people still do, in fact, go out. Lance makes his second ill-fated proposition of the night: they find a boy to take home for a threesome. Their prayers are immediately answered in the form of Francesco, a high-as-a-kite traveler who was just ditched by his friend and has no place to stay.
The next thing Henry knows the stranger’s shoes are off, Boney M is blaring, and he’s watching his boyfriend make out with Francesco in their living room. Henry recognizes Lance’s behaviour as a reaction to his marriage refusal, and with a look of horror across his face attempts to break things up. This only heats Lance’s fire, and he spitefully lets their guest know why he wants to sleep with him so badly: it’s because Henry will engage in sexual acts but never have actual intercourse. Lance hasn’t been fucked for 9 years and it’s all Henry’s fault.
At this point the night has descended into a duel of who can hurt the other’s feelings more. Lance locks Henry out of their bedroom to continue ravishing the raverboy, and Henry takes one last stab at it: “Okay. I’ll marry you.” Of course we know this is an insincere statement born out of desperation, only confirmed by the actions that follow. Henry wanders out of their house, barefooted and in a daze, and approaches a police cruiser he spots at a gas station. He tells them there’s a man in his house that will not leave, and so the police aggressively intervene — they break up the sex session and pin both Lance and Francesco to the floor.
A phone call from colleague Sunil’s place finally makes it through. It’s his wife, bawling her eyes out in front of a smoky garage surrounded by police, implying Sunil killed himself. Henry and Lance shout out each other’s shortcomings as Lance is paraded to the back of a police vehicle, but Henry doesn’t go back inside to sleep. The chaos has thrown him so over the edge that he goes to knock at the door of the loft building he briefly visited earlier, where Dean and Freddie live in need of an insurance inspection. They answer the door in the middle of the night, and Henry, Mr. Best to them, offers them just that. In return, they have to let him stay.