26 January 2015

TV: Cucumber/Banana/Tofu i

reviews by Tom Newsom (Twitter | Flickr | Blog)

 Russell T Davies is back!

I say ‘back’ - he’s been all over CBBC for the last eight years, not to mention taking Torchwood, his post-watershed baby, over to the US. And then there’s Doctor Who - the pivotal, ground-breaking, Saturday-night-defining continuation of the original show (and where thirteen year old me first encountered his work, for obvious reasons). Not to mention what he started off doing - ‘adult’ drama, a bit like this. And oh boy, you can tell it’s by Russell.

Not just the subject matter - Cucumber features the lives of gay men as his hit series Queer as Folk did (high up on my to-watch list, but sadly I haven’t seen it). You can tell because it’s pure, pleasing telly drama. He makes you laugh and cry in the same scene, sometimes at the same time. He writes gloriously human characters. He can be subversive, educating, but always entertaining. With Doctor Who (and the spinoffs too) he wanted children to be able to tell quality drama, forcing everybody else to raise their game. And the same works with drama for adults.

This is a show (three shows) about sex. That’s upfront, right in the titles and the striking opening sequence. Bold doesn’t quite cover it - even though there’s very little ‘sex’ in these, people discuss sex, their lives revolve around it, or not having it. It feels totally different to anything else and it shows there are still plenty of stories out there to tell.

Some people have reacted badly to this: what happened to this being a modern ‘gay drama’ that demolishes those sorts of stereotypes? Well, it still does that - but it’s not a ‘gay drama’ (though it is 'mainstream'), it’s really about one gay man, Henry. And he’s flawed, deliberately so. His relationship has cracks, he hates his friends, he looks at the young people with envy. He works in insurance. His life is about to fall apart. And all this is winningly played by Vincent Franklin, who embodies the part and makes it work. That’s where the story is here and it’s so promising for the rest of the series.

That and, naturally, the cruellest date ever, the best sound effects in a drama in some time, the best use of pop music, some absolutely perfect casting, the most outrageous jokes and scenes. Conceived and written over years, Russell T Davies is on top form. This first episode is all killer, and highly recommended.

It’s not alone - scheduled afterwards is a companion series (I watched on a different day - too much of a good thing) called Banana - think a fruitier, more diverse series of shorter stories. I like the concept, as it leaves Cucumber to be able to concentrate on just its main characters, whilst this series picks up the loose threads. The promise of more drama like this is exciting on its own - eight episodes that cover lesbian characters, bisexuals, transgender (how is this series featuring the first representation by a trans actor, in 2015?!) and more.

The first episode of Banana is deceptively lightweight - if you’ve seen the first episode of Cucumber, it’s not entirely surprising (and I’m not that sure from the first episode if it would work as a series on its own). This just takes one of the young supporting characters and fills in lots of blanks. 

Here, Dean (astonishingly natural newcomer Fisayo Akinade) is another character that’s really interesting to explore on screen, and like everyone, doesn’t fit into the standard narrative we first might think. 

There’s a few neat twists to it, a few outrageous (and modern) moments of sex. It’s Russell T Davies (writing both this week) continuing the mad, funny, human world he’s created.

And then there’s Tofu - an online documentary series cleverly linked to the other two by the titles, by interviewing the cast, sharing some of the same crew... and being all about sex. It’s rude but frank, definitely for adults, and often hilarious. The quite lengthy ten minute running time flew by - documentary maker Ben Cook makes it incredibly watchable. 

What I originally considered as something extra to the series is strong enough to stand next to the drama. After all, it’s all about the same subject. Tofu, then, is the series boiled down into its rawest, perhaps least sexy, form: honest, funny, and much stranger than fiction.

many thanks to
Tom Newsom (Twitter | Flickr | Blog)

No comments:

Post a Comment