09 February 2015

TV: Cucumber/Banana/Tofu iii

reviews by Tom Newsom (Twitter | Flickr | Blog)

You’d be forgiven for thinking Henry, the main character in Cucumber, had been sidelined in this week’s third episode. But the writing is clever enough to keep with the same themes that encompass the series - a yearning for lost youth, particularly - and run with them whilst focusing on other characters. In this case, the ultra handsome Freddie. For those watching both, it doesn’t feel like a Banana storyline; it’s messier than that.

But more on that later, first: Henry and Lance. After last week’s post-breakup breakup, there’s some fun scenes of revenge, but also some subtle warmth between them in moments of peace. To last out a relationship like that for nine years, there must be common ground, even when the characters seem distinct and their plotlines vary - Henry moping, Lance playing with fire. The episode is dedicated to the younger folk - Henry’s nephew gets an interesting role in this; he’s a very modern character, painted in broad strokes here. But this feeds into Henry’s reawakening, as he begins to address some of his problems. (Of course, addressing them through the medium of Crossroads and Katy Perry, though that makes it more poignant)

Freddie’s plot then - it’s a good one. Layered, shades of grey, for the most part more tragedy than comedy. When he encounters his old friend - friends - we’re immediately wary, but the story is handled in such a way that it doesn’t quite end up how you thought it would. It walks a fine line between viewpoints, delving right into Freddie’s character in how he handles the situation, even sometimes being quite provocative, but it never feels (intentionally) issue-led. Perhaps that’s because it’s grounded in what the characters feel, even if they are wrong, rather than what the traditional narrative might be. Cucumber is rarely traditional, happily, or it wouldn’t be as much fun to watch.

And also, in this third episode, there’s the first proper sex scene we’ve had - you can’t miss it. In the first two episodes, and before in this one, it’s been off-camera, behind closed doors (and wobbly walls), and mainly used as a joke, often a dark one. Here its right at the heart of the drama, played as a power struggle, though it’s still taken seriously. Bold for the timeslot possibly, but it’s the sort of scene that you could only have in a drama like this. The comedy here is as top as it has been, but this week the ambiguities live on in your mind too. Hats off to the writing, directing and acting in particular.

Sue Perkins was one of the most prominently-publicised writers when Banana was announced, and perhaps the prospect of an episode from her - a one-off, potentially her view of gay life - was building this up too much.

But happily, as a short slice of drama, it delivers. It’s a love story: two girls get together, move in, stuff happens. The scenes are brisk, the details slight, but it feels real.

One of its biggest achievements, notable by their absence, is the complete lack of clichés - in the relationship, in the drama, even in the plot in these things. Before the episode aired I saw an interview with her for the series, and she ponders that what she might take for granted as a stereotypical behaviour for lesbians might not be the case, and vice versa. Perhaps she needn’t have worried about trying to portray the ‘everywomen’ - flawed-character-heavyCucumber has been chided by some viewers for not being that, but that’s drama. The relationship is stripped back to just two individual and distinctive young women, whose problems have nothing to do with them being gay, but thankfully the writer has included just enough detail to make the story her own - a cheeky game in the supermarket stands out, as do the lively, clever opening scenes.

And then there’s the story between Sian, one of the two girls, and her mother, who’s also gay. Their relationship and her upbringing feels very new and fresh and very well handled. Actually it’s probably a stronger, more human storyline than the lesbian romance. But even that is treated with more depth and feeling than you’d normally expect. It’s really good.

And to Tofu - which proves this week it’s not going to be a one-trick pony as it’s not about sex. No, really - it’s about people who choose not to have sex, in a documentary that’s otherwise about people doing it. 

There’s a smaller range of interviewees on this subject, so we get a much better picture of them - some surprisingly young, some older, all well chosen and eloquent and characterful (and all female, which perhaps raises another question about the issue, along with the few raised in this episode). 

The ‘sketch’ in the middle is lovely and quite mad, in a different way this week.

many thanks - and a very happy birthday - to
Tom Newsom (Twitter | Flickr | Blog)

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