TV Review: Cucumber

Russell T Davies returns to gay life in Manchester in heartbreakingly good form with the excellent Cucumber

“Close your eyes and think of me”

Having made his name with Queer As Folk, Russell T Davies’ televisual return to gay life in Manchester took the form in the triad of Cucumber, Banana and Tofu (named for stages of an erection, natch). Most attention fell on the most conventional of the three, Cucumber, which focused on the midlife crisis of Henry Best, a 40-something gay man who lurches into a meltdown when Lance, his partner of 9 years, proposes marriage and he says no.

I remembered the show quite fondly from first time around, so I was surprised upon rewatching at just how much of an uncompromising twat Henry is. Vincent Franklin does a great job at rounding off some of the sharp edges with a genial humanity but he is a selfish middle-class tosser of the first degree throughout and there’s something quite admirable in that, even if Davies can’t resist trying to undo it with a sentimentally tinged final episode.

Henry’s journey takes him into warehouse living with some fit young things (Fisayo Akinade and Freddie Fox, both great fun). And Lance’s reaction is to amp up the flirting with his sexy new straight colleague Daniel (Cyril Nri and James Murray respectively, both excellent) with devastating consequences (and a gorgeous unexpected cameo). It may be spoilery but Episode 6, which tracks Lance from birth to death is possibly one of the best things Davies has ever done, second only to Donna Noble (who also met a terribly unfair end).

It’s interesting to see how far the conversation has moved since this aired in 2015. There’s nothing made of the racial inequities in the opening episode and though the beginnings of fluid sexualities are touched on here, they are gingerly trodden around. But there is much that is timeless too, the fear of simply being yourself, the move to increasingly online lives, the challenges of dating no matter your age or sexuality enlivening a particularly strong episode with Julie Hesmondhalgh a delight there, but also from start to finish too.

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