I never watched Queer as Folk. I was a 5 year old when the British series aired, and all of 11 by the time the North American reboot screened its finale. I’ve always been aware of it, but merely as a blur in the backdrop of my brain — it’s a TV show the former me, ever edging away from art that appeared to be built upon exclusively gay content, would have happily chose to miss out on. I didn’t know what Russell T. Davies was capable of, and thus the writer’s ambitious new project — the triptych of Cucumber, Banana, and Tofu — kind of took me by surprise.
Which is probably a bit of an understatement. The most substantial portion of the three-course TV dinner, the narrative Cucumber, opens with an internal soliloquy from its middle-aged protagonist in which he underlines the meaning of the programs’ titles. A Swiss sex institute once passed a decade studying the male erection, and developed a scale to categorize the 4 different levels of hard-on: 1) Tofu, 2) Peeled Banana, 3) Banana, and 4) Cucumber. Our hero, played by Vincent Franklin, explains this in voiceover as he haunts the aisles of a Manchester supermarket, ogling each and every virile young man he passes. From this moment on I was hooked.
One of the series’ most masterly aspects are their blend of realism and fantasy. When the shows premiered in Britain this January, there was a backlash of queers who cried wolf about an inability to relate to the characters’ situations: they had too much sex, they were too old, they were oh-so-cliché, they were too flawed. In defence against this angelic viewership, I’d like to come out and say that the people I saw in the show felt very real to those I’ve known and those I’ve encountered, from all walks — in ways both whimsical and miserable.
We experience life through daydreams and afterthoughts, and especially when you’re gay and yearning, missed eye contact on the bus is enough to send one off into a reverie of the could-have-been. Davies employs trick flash-forwards and imagined scenarios to inflate and colour the characters’ neurotic realities, like party balloons just getting ready to pop.
Earlier this year Davies told Gay Times that he plans on devoting the rest of his career to writing gay drama. While that’s a specification that would have once achieved my immediate disinterest, I now completely see its place. If work as daring and special as Cucumber, Banana, and Tofu can continue to be produced under Russell T Davies’ watch, then the state of sexual tolerance and quality British television will be all the better off.
Cucumber and Banana premiere April 13th on Logo in the States and OutTV in Canada the next day. We’ll be posting a bunch of clips and featureless leading up to the premiere next week, as well as Cucumber recaps here at to coincide with each night’s episode — and until then, if you want to find me, I’ll be holed up in my bedroom catching up on some much-needed QaF.
Continue to the next page for a guide to all three series…
What’s it taste like? — Cucumber is a self-contained hour-long drama that follows the spiritual awakening of Henry Best, a balding insurance salesman who decides, after splitting with his boyfriend and losing his job in the series’ start, to take life and lust into his own hands. Henry believes there is “one more cock” out there awaiting him before the predictable tedium of old age takes its toll, and this quest brings him to the flat of two young employees from his office, Dean (Fisayo Akinade) and Freddie (Freddie Fox) — the latter an unattainable dreamboat who becomes his obsession. It’s hilarious, sexy and sincere — and over the course of 8 episodes evolves into an incredibly moving character arc that questions not only what it means to be gay, but what it means to be human in the puzzling crossroads of this day and age.
Shining star — Mr. Henry Best is our sardonic antihero and undeniably carries the show, but it’s his (ex)boyfriend Lance, played by Cyril Nri, who detests and adores Henry alongside the audience, showing us how we too can feel both emotions at once.
Highlight moment —One of the most delightful scenes breaks down the generation divide and unifies Henry with his roommates half his age as they embark on a high-speed Grindr chase to track down the illustrious man behind the profile “Aiden, 24.” The trio hops in a car, wielding their smartphones to constantly refresh how hot or cold they are from the beau, X inevitably marking the spot as they come to a halt at Manchester’s Canal Street. I want to do this with my friends one day.
Fancy a fact? — Cucumber reunites Davies with some past players and stars of British television. These include Denise Black reprising her role as Hazel Tyler from Queer as Folk in a chilling but unforgettable cameo, and Julie Hesmondhalgh from Coronation Street (where she played the first regular transgender character in serialized drama, ever!)
What’s it taste like? — Banana is a series of half-hour segments that each focus on a different character or relationship — be they brief encounters or longtime bonds. It operates in and around the vibrant queer Manchester of Cucumber with which it often overlaps, but Banana provides a fleeting look at the younger characters on the sidelines of the main show. For the stars of Banana, coming out is no longer a concern — in the progressive new world they have, for the most part, come to terms with their sexualities, and so have their parents. The hereafter of equality for these young British adults involves the trials and tribulations of first love, maintaining one’s identity when you’re a 20-something in a big city with a part-time job, and (almost ubiquitously) hook-up apps.
Shining star — Charlie Covell both penned and starred in the hilarious 6th episode, where she plays a charmingly distraught young woman whose frenetic OCD gets in the way of her dating life. She also wrote the shattering instalment centred on Helen, a transgender woman who is cyber-attacked by a vengeful ex-boyfriend. Covell is clearly a major talent, and Davies has claimed, as a writer he’s entrusted to portray part of his vision, he thinks “she’s the bee’s knees.”
Highlight moment — A standout segment takes a look at league discrepancy, and shows us, in a way, why it may really be a thing. In the aftermath of a steamy threesome, two of the guys attempt to prolong last night’s moment by spending a day on the town together. The problem is this: Aiden is a masculine Greek god of a man and he’s all too aware of it; meanwhile, his new companion Frank is mousy and pale, and pales in comparison. But there’s no denying the spark is there, and we are briefly teased that the beauty and the beast go on to defy expectations and make their unfit relationship work, in a sequence of vignettes depicting the romance-that-could-be. We won’t reveal exactly how it turns out, but let’s just say their conversation to follow will leave you pondering the person you approach at a bar versus the person to whom you swipe left.
Fancy a fact? — Bethany Black, who portrays Helen, is the first transgender actor to play a transgender role on UK television. Davies felt so strongly about casting a trans actor for the part that he was on the verge of changing the script before Black came forward at the last minute.
What’s it taste like? — Davies said “in this day and age when you approach a show you have to be sort of multi-platform aware […] I think when you get a commission do everything you want to do with it.” Thus the final point to complete his trifecta: “Tofu,” a documentary web series hosted on 4oD. Presented by vlogger and journalist Benjamin Cook, it asks its participants every possible question about sex — what makes it great, what makes it terrible, how modern technology plays into it, if it’s actually sexy to shoot a sex scene, who the first celebrity they dreamed of going to bed with was, how to come out. These oft-lighthearted and always meaningful camera confessionals are interspersed with short comedic sketches, like one set in a dystopian near-future where we rate our lovemaking history like Uber drivers, or one that brilliantly dramatizes nasty Grindr convos starring the elderly in an old farmyard.
Shining star — Everyone. It’s the diversity of the subjects — a mother and son, a professional dominatrix, porn stars, teenage boys, old women, the casts of Cucumber and Banana — and the way their attitudes and liaisons vary, but more the ways they intersect.
Highlight moment — An 18 year old YouTuber, happily out to friends and family, is nearly brought to tears in the making of a coming out video for his viewers. Everyone interviewed speaks of their coming out as a moment of relief and great triumph, but it’s impossible to undermine the pain that preceded these acts of courage. “You look physically exhausted,” the interviewer notes afterward. “I am physically exhausted,” he responds.
Fancy a fact? — Last year the doc series called on members of the public to submit a 90 second video describing their best “sexcapade,” and these entries were whittled down to the participants we see onscreen. The job of watching each and every video submission is one I kind of would have killed to have.
Here’s a trailer for all three: