Written by Russell T Davies and named after a scientific hardness scale for male erections, Cucumber, Banana, and Tofu are three rare shows which aren’t trying to promote a healthy diet. Instead they’re selling sex: good sex, bad sex, casual sex, hate sex, fetish sex, two-people-in-love-sex, and who-cares-it’s-just-sex-sex.
Cucumber primarily chronicles the mid-life of Henry Best (Vincent Franklin), whose world is shattered following a disastrous date night with long-term partner Lance Sullivan (Cyril Niri). He embarks on new path with unfamiliar rules and unknown consequences.
The series begins with Henry and Lance out in the city with their friends – eating, drinking, and scrolling through Grindr, proudly conforming to the stereotype of sex-obsessed older men you should probably stay away from. They have fun, and end the night on a high by talking about cocks in a taxi office.
Henry and Lance’s relationship issues are clear early on. Even though they love one another, they don’t have sex. Ever. Instead, they simultaneously masturbate in different rooms – Henry upstairs and Lance downstairs. It leads to an incredibly awkward and hilariously executed conversation with a neighbour one morning, as both men prepare to leave for work.
The aforementioned date night is what breaks the relationship. Lance tries to propose to Henry, who rejects him, stating his lack of belief in marriage as the reason. After leaving the restaurant, the two men go out on Canal Street and find Francesco (Peter Caulfield), with whom they have a threesome.
Not everything goes to plan as Lance is the only one who ends up having sex with Francesco, while Henry finds the police, who later arrest both men. As Lance is taken from his home naked, Henry follows, with both men trading insults.
“Learn to swim,” shouts Henry. To which Lance replies: “Learn to fuck.” It’s a scene that perfectly exposes the couple’s insecurities.
The same night, Henry’s old life ends and his new one begins, as he finds himself on the doorstep of Dean (Fisayo Akinade) and Freddie (Freddie Fox).
Henry finds himself without money, without a job, and unable to hide his attraction to Freddie, who he now has to live with. This new life leads to all sorts: making a date cry; discovering that Freddie was abused by a teacher; late night hunts for men on Grindr; attempting to make a series of homoerotic videos starring his teenage nephew and a friend; a funeral; and allowing friends new and old into his home to form ‘The Collective’.
Banana is an anthology series focusing on the various minor characters in Cucumber. The first episode focuses on Dean and the lies he tells in an attempt to make his life more dramatic. The second shines a light on Scotty (Letitia Wright), as she works two jobs to support her mother and falls in love with a woman after a single act of kindness. Another episode centres on Josh (Luke Newberry) and Sophie (Chloe Harris), who are moving on from previous relationships. The series as a whole highlights a number of diverse and exciting LGBT personalities.
Cucumber’s second companion show, Tofu, is not another drama but a short documentary series in which the cast, crew, members of the public, sex workers and porn stars are questioned about topics including sex, love and relationships. Approaching these topics in a fun and truthful way allows the show to highlight different attitudes towards these subjects.
Stylistically, Cucumber and Banana are more experimental than the vast majority of shows to debut in the last few years. Scene transitions are quick and fluid, making the action easy to follow from beginning to end.
Cucumber especially masters the montage, as evidenced in the first episode when Henry sings in the shower, oblivious to the missed phone calls and events transpiring to change his life. The way in which the camera cut away to show tofu being cut, a banana being peeled, or a cucumber slapped against a hand each time a character looks at another’s crotch is a hilarious use of euphemism.
The fact that most episodes open with Henry guiding a trolley through a supermarket, accompanied by an internal monologue, creates a narrative consistency as the series progresses.
The themes explored through the characters in Cucumber and Banana are relatable to the vast majority of viewers, making every episode a joy to watch. Most of us will fall in love, have good and bad relationships, struggle to pay rent, and have sex.
Both shows celebrate and embrace the themes they explore, and highlight that each will change a person, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. This doesn’t matter, though, because life is meant to be lived, and no-one should be ashamed of who they are.
The overriding message of each show is to be proud of yourself and your sexuality. And you don’t need to be able to tell a bear from a twink to do so.