13 February 2015

TV: Cucumber/Banana/Tofu iv

reviews by Tom Newsom (Twitter | Flickr | Blog)

Stand down other TV shows - you’d be hard pressed to beat this. For an episode halfway through a drama, with a delicious concept, this is bold and ever so interesting. This episode could only come from Cucumber: four (or five) stories, all about the characters, also all about sex at the same time. It’s often outrageous as you might expect, but tinged with melancholy and humanity.

The premise is our main characters going on individual dates over the course of one night, with the episode cutting between them. It’s the fourth episode, we know and care about them now, but half of the date is a new character we haven’t met before. And since the whole episode is set on the one night, it feels self contained and accessible almost as a jumping-on point for viewers.

So, to the dates. Some are, as you’d expect, disastrous. The rest are even more so. In other shows, we might be in danger of repeating ourselves but not here - characters get pushed further out of their comfort zones, especially Henry here on his date with the lively, ‘nice’ Rufus Hound (who’s never not convincing).

It feels less like a collection of individual stories and much more like a whole - helped by some clever intercutting at the start - notably set to ‘Some Nights’ by Fun, nicely chosen - I said it’s about sex - both gay and straight, both doing it and not being able do it - and that’s reflected by the dinner part of the dates being quite short and suitably mad! But each has questions with no easy answers. Cleo’s situation (remarkably real ‘backstory’ for a character in a telly drama), relationships like Freddie’s and how it reflects on him, how Lance is affected by his relationship with Henry too, and where Henry wants to go from here. But it balances all this with a lot of light relief - in all the stories, but especially Dean’s.

As a standout highlight, the cafe scene halfway through, with Henry almost giving a monologue, is so so good. Not only is it very funny and true, it felt to me very close to the writer’s voice, if I can guess at that. Certainly it underlines more of the themes of the series, which is determined to get under Henry’s skin.

Some people - I hope you’re watching both of these shows - are preferring Banana to the parent series, which is fine. They’re both great telly, and Banana offers the closure every week that you get with an anthology rather than something continuing over eight weeks. Shorter stories can be much sweeter.

This nicely links in with Cucumber, even having its own disastrous date. Main character Helen is a brilliant focus for the events that follow - former goth Bethany Black is so good in the role, likeable and strong willed. That said, the whole thing is pretty much stolen near the end by her mum, played by Christine Mackie, showing you where she gets it from. Both the characters and the plot are gripping, with the production full of neat touches, making this a really well rounded, classy episode of the series.

I said before that this is the first proper trans representation in a drama, in 2015. But now the episode has come around, it doesn’t feel worth mentioning. It’s a drama that has its cake and eats it, with both not making it central to the drama (this horrible act could have happened to anyone, though Helen’s more affected than some), but still very much touching on ‘issues’ - in a positive light. It’s representation without needing it stated all the time. You wouldn’t want some of these scenes - family acceptance ones - all the time, certainly if they weren’t as well written as they were in this. But there’s still such a need for these stories to be even mentioned at all on TV, let alone foregrounded like this.

And this week’s Tofu goes a bit serious (more serious) and tackles a big subject: everything to do with coming out. Its tone is incredibly fresh, it’s built around somebody going through it, and the overall documentary is probably one of the best things there is on the subject.

The surprising thing for me that I’d never considered, was that many young people now have grown up with Youtube, which is quite scary and quite wonderful when you consider all the possibilities for self expression that’s been out there for the last eight to ten years. Although actually the most surprising thing about this was that Fisayo Akinade is 27! 

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

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