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Review: ‘Cucumber’ Episode One

cucumber episode 1

Cucumber is a quintessentially gay show.

No beating around the bush here can dissuade the fact that after watching the first episode of Russell T. Davies‘ (Queer As Folk, Doctor Who) brand new show Cucumber, it is solely about a select group of older gay men and their lives and struggles.

It’s not a bad thing, per se — particularly when Davies has two other ventures going simultaneously as part of this big overarching project into modern LGBT+ life in Britain; there’s Banana, an anthology series about LGBT youth and their problems, and Tofu a docu-web series about sex.

Davies himself is infamous for his televisual history; his previous gay-centered offering Queer As Folk proved to be a massive hit, spawning a US remake, and giving Davies and his unique blend of drama, comedy, and conversation large recognition.

Cucumber takes place in modern day Manchester in the U.K., a world dominated by the rise of the casual hook-up, and the fluidity of modern relationships in the face of modern technology. A gay waiter’s Grindr page, Tumblr, and even his own ejaculatory self-styled video are discussed and viewed openly within the show’s first ten minutes, and casual sex is the undercurrent of the first episode at least.

Our lead, Henry (Vincent Franklin) is not the most sympathetic of heroes; he’s at times selfish, needy, crass, bitter, bored, and cynical to a very large fault, as a middle-aged man longing for the thrill of the chase of being young again. Still, by the end of the first episode, he manages to be an engaging protagonist, and actually an identifiable one at that, particularly when he calls the cops on his partner and their failed threesome participant in a scene that is both heartbreaking and hilarious.

The supporting cast is largely well drawn here too: recent Coronation Street alumn Julie Hesmondlaigh is a single-scene scene-stealer as Henry’s sister Cleo, while fellow Brit acting great Cyril Nri equips himself well as Henry’s partner Lance, a calm, steady man who begins to devolve when Henry turns down his offer of marriage.

The younger generation are somewhat fleshed out here too: vivacious young Dean (newcomer Fisayo Okinade) is a radiant burst of joyful sexual abandon in a chastity belt, while his flatmate and occasional sexual partner Freddie (Freddie Fox) is a moody, insouciant man whose the stuff of Capote’s dreams.

Fortunately, the show has only just begun to show what it has hinted at in the trailers, of Henry’s journey of self-discovery while his friends, family, and loved ones hold on for dear life and discover things themselves on the way – and it’s nothing if not funny. Davies has retained his usual verve for modern day language and conversation, and the one-liners feel effortless and funny.

While there’s not much sex been shown on the so far, despite the promises abound — Dean’s chastity belt moment, and the half-attempted threesome ending in some funny-but-not-sexy male frontal nudity withstanding — given Davies’ history of strong sexuality on screen, it’s bound to make an appearance one way or another.

Cucumber is a fun, enjoyable romp through modern Manchester, and a welcome return to form for one of the U.K.’s most prolific and beloved writer and creators. We’ll be taking another slice of cucumber as soon as it becomes available.