Say what you like about Russell T Davies as a writer, he doesn’t crave anyone’s approval.
Tackling the unsettling topic of teacher-pupil grooming this week, Davies eschews sermonising – and avoids Queer as Folk territory – by showing the retrospective consequences of such an affair. A game of sexual cat and mouse is played between Freddie (Freddie Fox) and former teacher, Gregory (Edward MacLiam); but Freddie, having been screwed over, has learned to screw back, and the resulting scenes play out, as they are intended to, as farcical, twisted and, frankly, horny.
There is judgement here – the teacher in question gets a good kicking. But Henry’s anger that Freddie was only fifteen when the sex began would more securely occupy the moral high ground were it not for the fact that, earlier in the episode, we have seen him pimping out his own fifteen-year old nephew for a bit of erotic lip-synching online.
When Freddie voices his frustration that the enforced secrecy of the relationship obliged him, as a teenager, to be closeted and thereby socially retarded, we are invited to feel a degree of sympathy. But as he, Gregory and Henry pile rather-too-contrivedly on top of each other at the end of the episode, there is not one of them who is innocent or admirable.
Gregory gets what’s coming to him. Well, any drama can resolve the issue of marital infidelity by the sending of a damningly explicit text. But Cucumber is a rare new breed of drama – following in the footsteps of the recent Cyberbully – that is willing to see online behaviours in broader terms, understanding that, for the people who use them, virtual media platforms are both community and lifestyle.
The vlogging sub-plot feels directly drawn from the world of Becoming YouTube, the web series authored by Tofu creator, and friend of Davies, Ben Cook. As such, it is a glimpse of a world that Henry may surf as a user, but which, for all his attempts at entrepreneurship, he doesn’t really understand.
Equally out of his depth – literally – is Lance (Cyril Nri), whose swimming lesson provides this week’s James Murray Shirtless Moment. When Lance explains to Daniel the precise effects of his skill at fellatio, it’s another speech that feels a little too gratuitous – a little too self-aware – even if it does have the dramatic effect of raising, once again, the question of how far Daniel is turned on by such talk.
For once, a clear answer is given. It’s the reason why Daniel can’t immediately leave the swimming pool. But later on, when Daniel rebuffs Lance’s phone call, we have returned to the old territory of machismo under threat.
The pre-publicity for Cucumber asserted that it was Henry who was given to lighting social fires; but, on this evidence, all of the principal characters are experts at self-destruction. Among the men, any relationship is a potential tinder box of vanity, lust and deceit; but for viewers to really take to these characters, there may need to be a little self-awareness in the mix too.
Aired at 9pm on Thursday 5 February 2015 on Channel 4.
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