Released as a complementary anthology series to Cucumber, Banana is an interesting experiment but doesn’t always quite hit the spot
“I’ll buy you lunch and try and kiss you”
A sister series to Cucumber, Russell T Davies’ Banana aired on E4 right after the main show and told eight different stories of supporting characters who in some cases, had only been seen briefly in passing. It was a fascinating way of expanding the dramatic world of the show and useful too, as the main focus there being on Henry meant the spotlight here could be shone on a wider LGBT+ spectrum.
So lesbians get a fair crack of the whip for once, and history was made with the first transgender actor appearing in a transgender role on UK TV. Davies letting in other writers definitely works in this respect, with Sue Perkins, Charlie Covell, Matthew Barry and Lee Warbuton all contributing. And so the end result is predictably uneven but at its best, highly engaging.
In some ways, the conceit works best when there’s greater distance between Banana and Cucumber. The first episode features Fisayo Akinade’s highly engaging Dean but as a main character in Cucumber, you’re left wondering why this story wasn’t told there. Banana is much more interesting when it is delving into characters who we don’t know as well, or in some cases at all.
So the capsule love story of Georgia Henshaw’s Sian and Hannah John-Kamen’s Violet who live downstairs becomes a delightful intergenerational queer character study. And the date night between Charlie Covell’s Amy and the ubercool T’Nia Miller’s Kay is delicious in its exploration of the gap between how we see ourselves and how others actually see us.
Other tales don’t quite grip as much, namely Davies’ entries for Scotty and Vanessa, but Bethany Black’s work as Helen is sensational in Episode 4 which brilliantly focused on a revenge porn case which just happens to feature a trans woman. Such an elegant way of obliquely interrogating the subject. And there’s scorching work from Warburton who exposes the tricky world of gay men and their self-imposed beauty standards.