Cucumber (TV series)
Cucumber title card
|Created by||Russell T Davies|
|Written by||Russell T Davies|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of series||1|
|No. of episodes||8|
|Location(s)||Manchester, Greater Manchester, England|
|Running time||45 minutes|
|Original network||Channel 4|
|Picture format||HDTV 1080i|
|Original release||22 January – 12 March 2015|
|Cucumber on Channel 4 website|
Cucumber is a 2015 British television series created by Russell T Davies and aired on Channel 4. The series focuses on middle-aged Henry Best (Vincent Franklin), following a disastrous date night with his boyfriend of nine years, Lance Sullivan (Cyril Nri). Henry's old life shatters, and he embarks on a new life with unfamiliar rules.
In development since 2006, Cucumber was announced along with E4's companion series Banana, and 4oD's web series Tofu in November 2013. The titles of all three shows come from a scientific study into the male erection which divided the erection into a hardness scale consisting of tofu, peeled banana, banana, and cucumber; upon reading the study, Davies remarked that "right there and then, I knew I had my drama".
Cucumber ran for one season only. Russell T Davies later confirmed that Cucumber was a one and done story and would not return for Season 2.
Cucumber was initially conceived during Davies' tenure as showrunner of Doctor Who. Envisioned as a spiritual sequel to the seminal 1999–2000 Channel 4 series Queer as Folk, More Gay Men, as it was then called, was to focus on middle-aged gay men, and had its genesis from the question "why are so many gay men glad when we split up?" that his friend Carl Austin had asked him in 2001. The show was initially due to enter production in 2006, but the success of the revival of Doctor Who indefinitely delayed the series. By March 2007, Davies had fleshed out the initial episode, and explained a pivotal scene in correspondence with journalist Benjamin Cook:
I can imagine a man who is so enraged by something tiny—the fact that his boyfriend won't learn to swim—that he goes into a rage so great that, in one night, his entire life falls apart. It's not about the learning to swim at all, of course, it's about the way that your mind can fix on something small and use it as a gateway to a whole world of anger and pain… If I write the Learn To Swim scene well—and it could be the spine of the whole drama—then I will be saying something about gay men, about couples, about communications, about anger."— Russell T Davies to Benjamin Cook, 6 March 2007, The Writer's Tale: The Final Chapter
By 2008, More Gay Men was among the list of series that Davies wanted to produce after moving to Los Angeles, California, along with an American adaptation of Bob & Rose. Cucumber had been picked up by the American cable network Showtime and BBC Worldwide and entered into pre-production in July 2011, although pre-production was suspended a month later after his boyfriend Andrew Smith was diagnosed with a brain tumour, prompting Davies to return to Manchester so Smith could undergo chemotherapy nearer to their families.
Cucumber was later picked up by Channel 4 to be produced by Davies' former colleague Nicola Shindler and the Red Production Company. The show was Davies' first Channel 4 series in over a decade; Davies had an acrimonious dispute with the channel after a decision to green light production on a Queer as Folk spinoff and The Second Coming was reversed by new executive personnel. Former Doctor Who producer Piers Wenger convinced Davies to return to the channel due to the political nature of the show, which had by then expanded to include its sister shows Banana and Tofu. The three series refer to a urological scale of erection hardness, which consists of tofu, peeled banana, banana, and cucumber, which is alluded to in the show's opening narration.
|Episode #||Title||Directed by||Written by||Original air date|| Viewers|
|1||Episode 1||David Evans||Russell T Davies||22 January 2015||1.57|
|Henry Best (Vincent Franklin) is a gay middle-aged insurance salesman, happily settled with his boyfriend of nine years, Lance Sullivan (Cyril Nri), but increasingly distracted by his work colleagues Dean Monroe (Fisayo Akinade) and Freddie Baxter (Freddie Fox). Lance asks Henry on a date, but after Henry rejects Lance's marriage proposal, Lance seeks revenge on Henry by bringing a younger man, Francesco (Peter Caulfield), back for a threesome. Lance insists on sleeping with Francesco, angry that Henry hasn't had anal sex with him since they started dating. Henry calls the police and has Lance and Francesco arrested, and distraught, flees and moves into Dean and Freddie's apartment.|
|2||Episode 2||David Evans||Russell T Davies||29 January 2015||1.03|
|Henry begins his new life without Lance after secretly moving into Dean and Freddie's apartment. Meanwhile, Lance goes to a bar with his desirable and self-proclaimed, overtly heterosexual colleague Daniel (James Murray), whom he confides his lack of decent sex life with Henry. Henry gets suspended from work after supposedly causing the suicide of one of his colleagues, and is annoyed that Freddie, who clearly set his boundaries with Henry, has no problem entertaining his friend Cliff (Con O'Neill). Henry's sister Cleo (Julie Hesmondhalgh) manages to track down Lance, allowing him and Henry to finally meet up, where several revelations are surfaced.|
|3||Episode 3||David Evans||Russell T Davies||5 February 2015||0.88|
|Cleo is introduced to Dean and Freddie after Henry invites her and her enterprising son Adam (Ceallach Spellman) to visit, when Cleo encourages Henry to move out. Henry discovers that Lance has taken the money out of their joint bank account and enlists Adam and one of his friends to star in homoerotic videos to try to make some money. Meanwhile, Freddie runs into his former teacher and lover Gregory (Edward MacLiam), who is now married, but still tries to convince Freddie to have one last sexual rendezvous. After Freddie initially bails on him, he texts him to meet for sex at his apartment, however a fight breaks out after Freddie takes a picture of a half-dressed Gregory without his consent as revenge for the abusive dynamic of their relationship. Henry helps Freddie out in the fight just as Lance shows up with a present for him after his attempts to get Daniel in bed fail.|
|4||Episode 4||Alice Troughton||Russell T Davies||12 February 2015||0.87|
|Henry, Lance, Cleo and Freddie all go on dates; Henry with eccentric Rupert (Rufus Hound), Lance with Peter who shares the same desire for Daniel, Cleo with married old flame Brian (Ardal O'Hanlon), and Freddie with Anna, the sister of a former boyfriend. However, when it comes to sex later on in the night, not everybody gets it on. Cleo and Brian have a heart to heart after their awkward sexual experience, Freddie and Anna eventually hit it off after Freddie's doubts about Anna's reservations, and Henry's sexual timidity sees off Rupert, but he eventually sees something in Rupert's friend, Leigh (Phaldut Sharma). After Lance backs out of sex with Peter, Daniel invites Lance round to his flat, where Daniel again flirts outrageously while asserting he is straight. Meanwhile, Dean goes through some strange and bizarre role play when he is kidnapped by two men and treated like a sex slave.|
|5||Episode 5||Alice Troughton||Russell T Davies||19 February 2015||0.35 (overnight)|
(outside top 30 for official rating)
|After Henry still finds himself powerless to retrieve the money that Lance has taken from their joint account, he continues to find income in the homoerotic videos starring his nephew Adam and his friends. Cleo eventually finds out and puts her foot down after a game called 'Nervous' goes too far. Henry also finds himself fall foul of Freddie's suspicious parents after they find out that he is living in the same apartment as their son. Their argument makes Freddie grow more fond of Henry and they eventually have a heart to heart together; Henry decides to spend the evening with Freddie over his new boyfriend, Leigh. Meanwhile, Lance is confused at Daniel's ambiguous and domineering sexual attitudes and behaviour towards him. Eventually, Daniel masturbates in front of Lance, and suggests doing something like that again. Henry and Lance finally agree on neutral ground, with Lance proposing to buy out Henry's share of the house. They eventually talk and recall happier times.|
|6||Episode 6||Alice Troughton||Russell T Davies||26 February 2015||0.89|
|Telling the story of Lance's life, the episode follows Lance from birth, through childhood and the death of his mother, coming out and the gradual softening of his father's homophobia, and on to finding self-confidence and later love with Henry in Manchester as an adult. Speeding to the present, Lance receives a number of mixed signals from Daniel while drinking on Canal Street, and is visited by the ghost of Hazel Tyler (Denise Black) from Queer As Folk (Davies' previous TV show set in Manchester), who tries to warn Lance to go home and avoid a terrible fate. At Daniel's, Lance is uncomfortable, but Daniel escalates their encounter until they both perform oral sex. After ejaculating, Daniel is overwhelmed with panic and self-loathing about his desires, and verbally and physically attacks Lance, ultimately striking him with a golf club. Lance's head is visibly dented and blood begins to pour out rapidly. Lance then sees his life flash before his eyes very quickly as he dies.|
|7||Episode 7||Euros Lyn||Russell T Davies||5 March 2015||0.92|
|Henry is distraught at Lance's funeral that Lance has died whilst he and Lance were not on good terms, and Cliff, who is acting as QC for the proseuction, informs Henry, Cleo, and Lance's sister (amongst others) that Daniel has changed his plea to not guilty, declaring that if he gets away with Lance's murder, Cliff will personally kill Daniel, to the agreement of the others in the room. Henry's search for "one more cock" then continues: in tandem with Dean and Freddie, they attempt to use Grindr to track down a man. After initially failing due to rain, Henry, Dean, and Freddie share a heart-to-heart, where Henry admits that he does not like anal sex because it hurts too much as a bottom and he loses his erection when he is the top. Dean admits that he orgasms too easily, and Freddie admits that heterosexual sex is easier, but he prefers gay sex for that reason. Lance's sister then has dinner with Henry and directly blames him for Lance's death, causing Henry to suffer a nervous breakdown in the middle of the restaurant. Things then get worse for Henry when slum landlord Roderick evicts all of the people living in the block of flats Freddie, Dean, and Henry are living in without warning. Henry then lives in his old home, along with most of the people seen in the series, as the "LGBT+ Collective".|
|8||Episode 8||Euros Lyn||Russell T Davies||12 March 2015||0.58 (overnight)|
(outside top 30 for official rating)
|Henry is living happily with "the collective", which provides him with the mojo he needs to regain his life, first enlisting Cliff and Freddie to exploit the flaws in his employer's argument to exonerate him from Sunil Merchandani's suicide and return him to his job. However, one of Lance's work colleagues visits and blames Henry for Lance's death, claiming that Henry was in the room with Lance and Daniel, when this is not true. Cleo warns Henry that the "collective" won't last forever, and soon people start finding other places to live. Freddie then realises that Henry sees him as a substitute for Lance, and proceeds to infuriate Henry by having sex with Cliff. Eventually, Freddie disappears, and no one knows where he has gone. Henry is alone in the house and receives the verdict of Lance's murder by means of a text from Cliff to Henry, Cleo, and Lance's sister, all of whom embrace when Daniel is found guilty. One year later, Henry runs into Francesco (who is really named David), and lies that he and Lance are still together and happy. Years later, Henry happens to run into an older Freddie, who reminisce about happier days, and Henry says that he might, one day, come to terms with being gay.|
Writing in The Guardian, Sam Wollaston argued that the debut of the Cucumber/Banana/Tofu trilogy was the "television event of the week", and that despite the show being "gloriously, triumphantly, explicitly gay", he "never once felt left out" as a heterosexual viewer. Mark Lawson said that the show had a wider theme: "the broader genre of respectability meltdown, as Henry is accelerated from smug dullness to scenes featuring police intervention, furious colleagues and social humiliation".
Both Lawson and Theo Merz (writing in the Daily Telegraph) compare the Cucumber trilogy to Davies' Queer as Folk—Lawson argues that while Cucumber and Banana are "notably sexually graphic", the times have changed: "Queer as Folk was made at a time when campaigners were fighting to reduce the age of gay sexual consent from 18 to 16, while Davies’ latest shows are screening in an era when men and women can legally marry each other", and therefore the depictions of explicit sexual themes are less likely to offend. Merz agrees, stating that Cucumber and Banana "feel less dangerous, and so less exciting than the earlier Queer as Folk"; Merz also argues that Cucumber has wider latitude to represent more varied gay characters as it is not carrying the burden of being the only show on television representing gay life.
Writing in the Telegraph, Gerard O'Donovan argued that the first episode succeeded ("In terms of comedy it worked brilliantly, the brio and louche wit of Davies’s writing bringing a rare energy and grit to the unfolding chaos") but Michael Hogan, also writing in the Telegraph, said that after watching the third episode, he was "disappointed" and could not find much warmth in the protagonist, Henry.
The series was also positively reviewed in The Independent, where Ellen E. Jones stated: "In Davies's hands, the tragi-comedy of middle-aged desperation is so sad, but so, very, very funny". Jones also argued that the appeal of the show was "universal" rather than just limited to a gay audience.
Both Cucumber and Banana premiered in the United States on Logo on April 13, 2015 and were watched by a low 55,000 viewers.
Both series aired in Australia on SBS Television and are also available to stream on Stan.
All episodes of Cucumber aired in the Netherlands on NPO3 during Gay Week. At the same time Banana was available to watch on the broadcaster's website.
In Canada, Cucumber and Banana were broadcast on OutTV in spring 2015.
The series aired in Germany as a dubbed version with the first Episode on WDR on July 30, 2016 and was watched by 70,000 viewers.
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- Davies & Cook 2010, p. 407.
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- Wollaston, Sam (22 January 2015). "Cucumber, Banana and Tofu review – 'gloriously, triumphantly, explicitly gay and the television event of the week'". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 February 2015.
- Lawson, Mark (16 January 2015). "Cucumber-Banana-Tofu trilogy - first-look review". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 February 2015.
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