30 January 2015

TV: Cucumber i

And so Russell T Davies returns to 'mainstream' television. In the five years since leaving Doctor Who, Davies has overseen the fourth series of its spin-off Torchwood and developed CBBC show Wizards vs Aliens, also taking a period off to care for his partner. But as enjoyable as both of those projects were, it feels good to have him doing what he does best again, and just writing human drama.

Davies has taught me a lot. From him I've learnt that life is all about people, and all about love. These are undeniably the underlying themes that span all of his creative works; no matter how far-fetched or abstract the surface layer may seem, there's a resounding heart thumping beneath it. And in this case, it's Henry Best's heart. Best is a man who's content with life. Not overly pleased with the side-effects of ageing, perhaps, but content. And a big part of that sense of fulfilment is boyfriend of nine years Lance Sullivan. 

Love's a strange thing. Like many words and concepts, I think its true meaning has been lost thanks to the extremist culture (partly influenced by the media, no doubt) we find ourselves in. These days, anything not advertised as the 'best', the 'hottest', the 'nastiest' and so on is almost immediately dismissed as inconsequential. In this way, words like 'epic' and 'awesome' have become bywords for 'really good', their true meanings getting buried. Similarly, 'love' and 'hate' are now recognised as extremes of like and dislike. But in my opinion, love and hate are completely separate emotions to the 'like' spectrum, instead being feelings of immense adoration or intense detest. It's the former concept that Davies explores so expertly and his writing proclaims that love goes beyond words or actions. It's much deeper-seated.

Here we're treated to Davies' other speciality: chaos. It was prevalent in his Doctor Who writing, particularly in his penultimate episodes of each series. The madness seems to stem from a single question: "how bad can things get?" First the Daleks were reborn from the ashes, with a new invasion force ready to conquer the universe and the technology to convert humans; then the Cybermen invaded Earth before the Daleks turned up again; then the Master turned Earth into weapons factory to combat the galaxy, enslaving humanity using their descendants; then Davros rocked up and created a bomb to destroy the entirety of reality. You can probably see what I'm getting at now.

The question Davies poses here is "how badly wrong can a date go?" At the start of the evening, Best and Sullivan are a happy couple, settled, guilt-free and with flourishing careers. By the end of the evening, the couple are living apart (one squatting in a warehouse, the other in a police cell), three men are in the care of the law because of Best. I think the utter insanity is displayed best in the shower sequence, when emails are arriving, phone messages are being left, texts are arriving and Best belts out his favourite tune, completely unaware all the while. 

The very clever thing about the way this episode's written is that it makes the audience feel special, like watching this is a real pleasure. I can't quite put my finger on it, but there's an effortless quality to this programme than makes you feel honoured to view it. But I must extend my praises beyond Davies' keyboard. Murray Gold's medley of male choirs was very welcome here and I though the musical accompaniment throughout simply superb. I pray there's an original soundtrack release for Cucumber - I'd snap it up instantly. I haven't purchased an OST album since Gold's work for the 2007 series of Doctor Who, so this really would be saying something.

The cast are all perfect for their roles too. As fifty-something virgin Best, Vincent Franklin is unrivalled though. He gives a powerhouse performance through understanding his character intimately. I really hope he gets many, many nominations. Also exhibiting some fine acting prowess are Cyril Nri (Sullivan) and Fisayo Akinade (Best's colleague Dean). That said, none of the cast show signs of being anywhere south of excellent and only serve to add to the impressiveness of the show. Another member of the production team enhancing proceedings is director David Evans, whose CV makes for very encouraging reading. It seems he was the perfect choice to helm Cucumber's opening episode, immediately establishing an intriguing and engaging visual language for it that I hope will be carried through to future weeks. 

All in all, I think I've made my feelings on this quite clear. It's damn good, and another feather in 2015's cap. The three main creative forces behind it - Davies, Julie Gardner and Nicola Shindler - have all been responsible for some of my favourite programmes over the last decade, and are the very reason I'm writing this now. I hold them in extremely high esteem, and I don't think it's hard see why when their combined forces can produce something as good as this. This is pure, unadulterated glorious viewing from start to finish. It's not a gay drama, it's a (effing good) drama about a man who happens to be gay. Thinking of all the other programmes I've rated 10/10 this year, this blows them all out the water. For this reason, I award Cucumber our golden commendation, invented specifically for this. Expect to see Cucumber all over our site awards nominations and winners next year.

In a Nutshell: This is drama of the Davies variety, and there's simply nothing better.

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