06 February 2015

TV: Cucumber iii

With every episode of Cucumber, my suspicion that this is the closest we'll get to a complete Russell T Davies autobiography is growing. It often feels that Henry is speaking the writer's true innermost thoughts, but the same could be said about other characters too. 

In ordinary series, episode three would probably be about the point they would start to stagnate. You've had the amazing first episode, the second episode that secures your viewers for the whole series, and you'll have some kind of finale you're building towards. Cucumber, though, doesn't follow ordinary TV conventions - in many ways. Real life doesn't happen in a predictable fashion, and Davies mirrors this with the notion that anything could happen at any time a fixture of this and Banana

This episode focuses for the most part around Henry's flatmate and fellow HC Clements employee Freddie Baxter, played with impressive versatility by Freddie Fox. Up to now, we've had Freddie presented to us as a quiet, confident character. In a subversion of expectations typical of Davies, the character is flipped completely on his head when an old teacher comes back into his life. It all starts with a look across a car park, and that single frame, shot so beautifully by David Evans tells an entire story. Before long the pair (the elder of whom is married with two children) are back in each other's arms. 

And that's where the tale twists again. Gregory, the teacher, insists that it's just a one-off. Naturally you expect him to become hooked on Freddie again, as any character of the appropriate persuasion seems to. But Davies is cleverer than that. Even though Freddie undoubtedly gets the most of anyone in this show, he's the one that falls for Gregory. And so begins a relationship that ends in inevitable chaos for the school teacher, with Lance playing a crucial role in the resolution of this episode. Some might say the plots of this episode and last week's Banana are too similar, but I'd disagree even though I do acknowledge there are similarities. 

All this talk of Freddie doesn't mean that Henry's life has been put on hold though. Like real life, certain people's prominence rises and falls in this series. Lance and Gregory are two people who operate in completely different circles, yet come the end of episode three, one's kicking the other in the ribs. That's how Davies cleverly ties his whole series back to Henry. If he and Lance hadn't gone on that fateful date in episode one, these two people probably never would've met. I'm a firm believer that Davies is a master of storytelling, and he tells the most economical of stories, showing us events in miniature before inviting us to apply these across a much greater period and scale. 

It's not just the show's creator who seems to be speaking through these characters though. Henry's nephew Adam is a thinly-veiled reimagination of Benjamin Cook, a journalist who Davies is very familiar with, and the showrunner of accompanying documentary series Tofu. We explore some of the more obscure facets of Davies' personality here, with Adam engaging in the noughties trend of straight boys pretending to be gay whilst miming to pop songs to earn Henry a bit of cash. Whilst we're on the subject, I'm sure Adam being 15 is a reference to it being the same number of years since Queer as Folk, arguably Davies' breakthrough series, and Cucumber's thematic predecessor. 

It's been quite some time since I've heaped praise on Mr Murray Gold for the astounding musical score he affords these series. They're seriously fortunate to have him onboard, as his unique soundtrack (including an array of belts and zips) completes the package. Many are quick to write this off as 'that gay thing', and usually I'd disagree. Cucumber (and Banana) are all about people and relationships. The fact that a lot of those relationships are same-sex doesn't bother me one bit. All that said, this is undoubtedly the gayest episode of the franchise so far, with boys kissing, talking about oral sex, listening to sex and having sex. It's unashamedly, deliberately gay, and I can just imagine Russell at the keyboard, tapping out these scenes, hooting with laughter. And rightly so.

I'd have no issue recommending Cucumber on quality alone, but that recommendation does come with one precautionary piece of advice: don't watch it with your parents.

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