Apr 5, 2015

[TV] Cucumber: Series 1

I'm part of that "generation" of gay men who grew up with Queer as Folk to some extent. Whether you were more of a fan of the original UK version or the longer US version, the show had a significant impact on our social history. The show helped bring the whole LGBT life to a wider audience and demonstrated that we're more than just our sexual organs. Sure, the show had a lot of sex, but it all served the greater picture it was painting.

Cucumber is one of three shows that QAF creator Russell T. Davies has created that once again address LGBT issues. The three shows a distinct and certainly stand alone, but they also interconnect to varying degrees. It's a pretty bold concept for a network to gamble on three different productions at the same time, but I suppose you could argue we said the same thing about Peter Jackson filming the different The Lord of the Rings movies in quick succession.

Of the three shows, this one is the one that more or less follows more "traditional" TV show formats. And the story is something pretty epic in scope when you really sit down with it.

Synopsis: Cucumber is British drama-comedy series created by Russell T. Davies for Channel 4. Episodes run for about an hour and generally speaking, this is the first show you should watch between this and Banana.

The show first introduces us to Henry Best (Vincent Franklin), a middle-aged gay man and insurance salesman who is in a relationship with his partner of nine  years, Lance (Cyril Nri). For the most part they've been quite happy being together, although there's a bit of a gap in terms of their sex lives that has been a simmering issue for some time now. And with Henry already distracted by the very yong Dean (Fisayo Akinade) and Freddie (Freddie Fox) at work, along with pretty much half the most of the folks he sees at the grocery store, Henry is not entirely prepared for the curve ball coming his way.

Long story short, Henry and Lance finally have it out after years of avoiding the issue and Henry eventually moves out and bunks in with Dean and Freddie in an apartment that is clearly not-quite-legal. We mostly follow the story from Henry's perspective, although we do switch over to Lance from time to time and his fascination with an attractive yet straight colleague at work. That sort of back and forth between them pretty much defines their relationship throughout the show. But we also find out more about Dean and Freddie and a few of their friends.

Similar in tone with Davies's Queer as Folk, the show manages the fine balance between comedy and drama in quite a masterful way. The show has a lot of pretty serious moments given Henry and Lance's relationship troubles and some of the nasty things that they end up doing to one another during the break-up. But they also sure to balance things with rather light moment here and there that help break the tension but still contribute to the overall story.

And what is this show really about? Beyond the more factual synopsis above, the show is really about the complexity of such latter year relationships and really just middle age gay life and all that entails. We have some younger folk still included since the young still play a pretty involved role with older members of the LGBT community. But at the same time there's no denying that we are following around a middle age man with some pretty middle age problems like choosing a new career late in life or the complexity of government tariffs when it comes to home ownership.

Now don't get me wrong - Henry is not written to be a likable and lovable character. He has some serious issues that he needs to deal with and for most of the season it feels like he actively avoids dealing with such problems. But oddly enough the influence between Henry does have on Dean and Freddie over time is only just about as interesting as Freddie and Dean's influence on Henry as well. It's the classic case of a weird twist of circumstance bringing a diverse mix of characters together and how they all evolve and grow.

No kid gloves here, mind you. This is Russell T. Davies and the shocking twists we saw in the first Queer as Folk are a decent indicator of what he's capable of as a writer. And again we see that sort of willingness to take things to a rather extreme level at work in this show. And that's not a bad thing - it's a rather bold manner of storytelling that puts the story above the relative value of any of the characters. Misfortune happens and there are serious consequences to deal with as well.

Cucumber isn't quite my favorite of the three interconnected shows, but it's still a very well put-together drama piece. It is a classic Russell T. Davis creation and it's certainly worth the investment and time - and you will get a few giggles out of it as well. The first series as a whole gets 3.5 guys that Freddie gets to hook up with in a day out of a possible 5.

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