Hello, faithful viewer.
If, like us, you have missed the bawdy, big-hearted voice of Russell T Davies on our screens, then his forthcoming ‘sex triptych’ of Cucumber, Banana and Tofu is so audaciously, proudly Russell, it’s like getting an injection of pure filth straight into the eyeball.
Cucumber, the centrepiece drama tells the story of partners of nine years, Henry and Lance (Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri), whose love for each other is not so secure that it cannot be undermined by petty cruelties and seismic disappointments.
Banana, the companion series which airs on E4, takes supporting characters from Cucumber and gives them their own thirty-minute Skins-style plays for today, while Tofu, a 15-minute documentary series made by Ben Cook and executive produced by Davies, Nicola Shindler and Julie Gardner, uses its online platform to examine contemporary sexual mores.
All three programmes live up to their billing in being filthy, funny and unapologetic. Yes, they’re about sex: the drive for sex; the absence of sex; when it goes right; when it goes wrong.
They’re also about diversity, not just as a policy decision – although Davies and Shindler admit that it is a policy decision, to represent a range of ethnicities, experiences and voices onscreen – but as a celebration and an examination of why a more diverse society is a more enriched, more humane and frankly funnier one.
There are huge belly laughs here: a father’s reaction to his son’s lurid (and false) tales of sexual wantonness; a neighbour’s reaction to the central character’s masturbatory habits. A speech that starts off as a celebration of Ryan Reynolds’ erotic appeal ends up as a discomfiting exposé of the sexual and moral weakness of Franklin’s gay everyman, Henry.
All eight episodes of Banana are written by gay writers: the first, by Davies himself, exploring the background of Cucumber’s Dean (a standout performance by newcomer Fisayo Akinade, and not just because he has to endure the indignity of wearing a chastity belt), with later episodes going beyond the male gay world of Cucumber to give us female voices, transgender voices and straight voices.
In week 5 of the run, a 15 minute drama, Screwdriver, will appear on the Channel 4 website: a two-hander between characters Cleo and Adam (Julie Hesmondhalgh and Ceallach Spellman) in which a mother confronts her son over the availability of online porn.
Of the three main programmes, Tofu is the more curious beast: a talking heads documentary series, it features a strand of semi-dystopian drama that is pure Black Mirror, but is also reminiscent, for Franklin at least, of Aardman Animations’ Creature Comforts – and not just because its participants, like the electricity supply of Aardman’s famous tortoise, are so easily turned off and onable.
Actress Julie Hesmondhalgh steals the show with a particularly frank admission, but it is city trader Vladimir – with his particular views about prostitutes who do not work at the high-class end of the spectrum – who is destined to garner the most Twitter hashtags.
Like their televisual dirty uncle, Queer as Folk, Cucumber and Banana share a bravura willingness to shock and to provoke, as you would expect from Davies, to whom a more compromised drama would be a ‘mewling doe-eyed puppy of a show instead of a dog’. They are also informed by the kind of generosity of spirit that comes from an understanding of life’s mad complexities.
Speaking about his sex scenes in Cucumber, which he considered unusually sexy for a film shoot, actor Freddie Fox attributed the openness on set to Davies himself, who ‘created this very warm, very safe, very generous environment for us to fuck’.
If you’re shocked to hear the son of acting royalty talk in such a way, then it’s probable you’re not prepared for just how riotously provocative these programmes are going to be. The sexual explicitness will, of course, offend those who seek to be offended, but, for others, the greater discomfort and delight will come from how closely these stories mirror their own.
Cucumber, Banana and Tofu begin on Thursday 22 January on Channel 4, E4 and 4OD.
Watch the trailer for Cucumber, Banana and Tofu…
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