13 March 2015

TV: Cucumber viii

Here we go one last time then.

That's much how writer/creator Russell T Davies seems to approach this episode to me. This may well be his last chance to say what he wants to so publically and so truthfully, and I'm sure he knows it. The eighth, and final, episode of Cucumber sees Davies' signature storytelling style used in miniature, as Henry tries to surround himself with friends to help him forget what's missing.

As well as the Collective - the former inhabitants of the Calico flats moving into Henry's house - works, it disbands before too long and we're left once more with just Best, Freddie and Cliff. In Davies' (and Benjamin Cook's) phenomenal The Writer's Tale, there's an illustration of what he would've wanted the Doctor's son to look like, had 2008 Doctor Who episode The Doctor's Daughter been taken down a different path. The picture, and accompanying description, seem to fit Freddie Fox perfectly, and I don't wonder that the character was reimagined for Cucumber.

Con O'Neill is once again excellent as Cliff, and in this role ascends to my third favourite of the series. He's wonderfully witty and wry, and the idea he's anything other than perfect for the role as imagined by Davies should be dispelled. However, there are two frankly fantastic performers who just edge him out. Julie Hesmondhalgh is undoubtedly best known as Hayley on Coronation Street, but from now on it'll be hard not to think of her as Cleo. She's embodied the part that's often been labelled the voice of reason in a series full of mad events and decisions and made it her own. It really is coincidence that the best episodes of the series - the first and sixth - are the two that don't feature her, since she's truly excellent.

This series is made entirely by Vincent Franklin as Henry, though. He is perfectly cast in the role, being able to articulate the every whim of Davies with flair, ease and - most importantly - excellence. This episode is no different, and the final scene shows him off at his best again. Indeed, the sincerity of the final line stays in the mind long after the credits roll. It's an oddly profound note to end on, but in a way that's entirely appropriate of this series. It made me think a lot, and clearly I'm not the only one as - most prominently - Gareth Roberts also tweeted about its truth. I think there can be no argument that in narrative terms Cucumber has been stunning. 

There are many to attribute its success to of course. Davies is naturally the main driving force behind the show, but if I start praising him I'll be here all day. Suffice to say his skill in executing both long and short-term storylines and narrative tricks still remains unparalleled in my eyes. His co-executive producers Julie Gardner and Nicola Shindler need a hearty thanks, and I'm so grateful to Piers Wenger for commissioning this at all. The directors have all been beyond amazing too, and Jake Polonsky has kept things looking beautiful. Beyond the actors mentioned above, James Murray (Daniel), Fisayo Akinade (Dean), Letitia Wright (Scotty) and of course Cyril Nri have all been inspirational. 

Behind the cameras, there's been some highly commendable work that I've barely mentioned. Louise Page is another face familiar from Davies' BBC Wales days, and I must say all her costumes have been right on the money. Dean's yellow hoodie, for example, sums up the character perfectly. Murray Gold has been amazing, and if there was any doubt he had a great ear for basslines (I can still hear Westminster Bridge whenever I want), Cucumber has set them straight. His choral pieces were my favourite, but the whole series has been excellently scored from start to end. And Mark Adcock has done excellent things as a camera op for all eight episodes. Having tried this myself, I know how much of an art it is, and the way Adcock and co. make it look so effortless is truly a skill. 

And a huge thank you to all the electrical, make-up, art and sound departments that have made this so special. This will go down as one of my favourite series, thanks to everyone involved. Andy Pryor's casting can't go unmentioned, for making it such a success. And I'm sure none of it would have happened without Matt Strevens. So thanks all. 

Beyond all that, though, Cucumber's given me a new catchphrase - a Henry-style "oh fuck off!". And really that's what I direct at all the naysayers the series has accumulated, few though they are. Thanks Russell, Vince, it's been fucking amazing. Cucumber's taught me a lot, but really it's underlined one thing I was already fairly certain of. 

Men are mad.

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