Cucumber, Banana, Tofu is a British television series made up of two drama shows and an online documentary. The series was created by Russell T Davies (Queer as Folk) and was released in early 2015. When experienced together as they were originally shown, anyone can gain an authentic insight into modern LGBT life thanks to Davies, and they will most likely gain an unexpected passion for the characters and actors, too.
Banana is a lot to get into because each of its eight episodes tells a separate story about a certain aspect of the LGBT community and our lives. It even goes into the life of Dean (a character from Cucumber) and his family, which remains quite a mystery if you’ve only seen Cucumber. Each episode features characters that overlap with Cucumber, and each one is a touching story of its own.
Tofu was a mini-documentary only available online, in which real people (including actors from the two shows) held real discussions about modern-day sex and sexuality. Graphic commentary on sexual stories certainly set the tone for what was to come in Cucumber.
Cucumber is the main story. To call Cucumber a very gay show would be an understatement. Cucumber is shockingly gay. In 2015, gay men were finally receiving some highly deserved acknowledgement on television, but certainly not enough. Russell recognised this and truly hit British television screens hard with this story.
Every episode begins with a walk through the supermarket. In the first episode, we are introduced to both our main character, Henry Best, and also to what appears to be the theme of the entire series: sex. As Henry strolls through the aisles gazing at every young, fit boy he passes, he imagines the stages of a male erection in the form of four things. Stage 1: Tofu; Stage 2: A peeled banana; Stage 3: A fully formed banana; Stage 4: Cucumber. If you hadn’t already guessed the innuendo behind the title, it is made vividly clear to you in the first scene.
This year I rewatched Cucumber in its entirety for the first time since its release in 2015, and it occurred to me just how much this short series stays with you over time. If you intend to watch Cucumber, be warned: it is an intense story. It digs into topics that nobody but Russell knew how to explore in the public eye. It is attractive and yet becomes increasingly disturbing. Whoever you are and whatever your preference may be, watch this show; something found within it is going to move you. That being said, be ready for sex and graphic sexual conversations because there’s a hell of a lot of it.
Cucumber‘s main character, Henry Best, is a gay man living in Manchester with his partner of nine years, Lance Sullivan. Everything appears quite perfect. They go out together with friends, they have conversations, they make each other laugh, they have chemistry, but at the end of the night they go back home, say goodnight, and head their separate ways. Henry heads upstairs to his laptop and Lance is left masturbating to old recordings of Hollyoaks. What went wrong? The answer to that question is also Henry’s biggest kept secret, and the underlying issue in their entire relationship: Henry doesn’t have sex.
That’s right. Henry—the man who wanders the supermarket fantasizing about having sex with every man he sees, the man who can turn on a room of experienced gay bachelors with an incredibly imaginative story about Ryan Reynolds and his cock—this man doesn’t have sex, and he doesn’t appear to understand why.
In one night, Henry and Lance’s entire relationship completely breaks down. While out on Canal Street, Henry tells Lance he’s up for a threesome with some young desirable man, expecting to find nothing of the kind. However, when Lance decides to prove his point and bring home a man who is blatantly off his face and up for anything, Henry panics and has them both arrested. It’s a completely disastrous evening in which Henry’s life falls apart forever. He loses his partner, has a naked man dragged out of his home by the police, and at the same time is faced with endless phone calls from a man who has plagiarised Henry’s college paper (and commits suicide as a result). This issue comes to light after Henry spends his time too distracted to pay attention to it. And it all comes crashing down on this one abomination of a date night.
Following this, Henry moves in with Dean, a friendly young gay guy from his workplace. Dean lives with Freddie Baxter. You’ve never seen a man as attractive as Freddie, and Henry is completely obsessed. Henry follows young gay men and has his obsessions, but now it’s reached a new level because he lives with Freddie. Freddie knows how dreamy he is; he is incredibly vain and supposedly ‘doesn’t give a fuck’ about anything, especially the 46-year-old virgin from work who stares at him in terrified silence when he walks by.
A lot happens in this house. Henry lusts after Freddie and watches both him and Dean as they live the ideal young single gay life in Manchester, having sex with a never ending supply of men and women, and having the confidence to go out and spend their time partying with friends. I think to Henry, they represent the freedom he doesn’t feel he has. Doesn’t it just make you angry that there’s a whole world out there of people having sex and people who have the confidence to go out and get what they want when they want it, and somehow you have been shut off from this life completely? You didn’t choose to live this way and certainly feel entitled to that life. Henry feels entitled, and he may even appear selfish because of it. But he becomes gradually less self-absorbed as each level of his emotions are revealed to us. Following his split from Lance, Henry’s emotional barriers come collapsing down a little bit more each episode until, in the end, they’re gone.
Meanwhile, Lance meets a man at work named Daniel. He’s a diver (of course he is) and he has the body to seduce any woman, or man, he wants. Now, he doesn’t seem to know it, or want to admit it, but Daniel wants Lance. Daniel, in my opinion, is a gay man—a gay man who must have been raised around hatred towards gay men, and has become completely terrified of who he is. We all show fear in different ways. Some of us would rather show anger than fear, and some men will go to great lengths to appear manly, not having to express any emotions their entire lives. This is Daniel, and he scared me from the moment I saw him. Daniel has sense of danger surrounding him. All that he says is just not quite right, and Lance notices this, too—a number of times. But after nine years of not having sex, he’s drawn in to Daniel, and genuinely believes this man will finally be the exciting romantic night he’s been waiting for, which leads him into a whole world of horror.
Episode 6 will make you cry and make you angry. It is an episode of constant emotion. In the very first scene, we learn that Lance is going to die. We are met with Lance walking through the supermarket instead of Henry, and the words ‘Lance Edward Sullivan 1966–2015’ glare at us from the screen. We are taken on a heartbreaking journey through Lance’s life during this episode—all his experiences as a gay man, rejection by his family, his lovers, his losses—all leading up to the moment that he didn’t trust his instincts and decided to go home with Daniel.
Perhaps Lance is genuinely consumed by lust, or perhaps he just wants to confront Henry through his actions. Either way, Lance is determined to go out with Daniel, and he does. They venture to Canal Street, where a ‘straight’ Daniel flirts with men, is groped by strangers, and completely makes himself at home. Lance believes that, after what feels like a lifetime of mixed messages and confusing nights between the two, this could finally be the night.
At this point, Lance wanders through Canal Street in thought about what the night could bring, and he encounters what is revealed to be the ghost of a woman who died years ago—a woman who we know ourselves from Russell T Davies’s series Queer as Folk. This woman’s name is Hazel Tyler, and her appearance opens up the possibility that Cucumber could exist in the same universe as Queer as Folk. Hazel roams the streets of Manchester, acting as a guardian angel towards Lance, but unfortunately Lance doesn’t listen.
In a brutal scene, one that you certainly won’t forget, Daniel eventually wants Lance to touch him; he wants him to undress, he wants to do everything that Lance had planned for all this time, but as it happens, you see a switch flip in his mind and he pushes him away. At this point the fear within Daniel lets itself be known in the form of rage and violence, shouting out homophobic slurs, throwing around threats, and pacing back and forth. Eventually, in the most disturbing moment, Daniel takes a golf club and strikes Lance over the head, exclaiming, ‘Look what you’ve made me do,’ before cowering in the corner of the room in tears. This scene feels like the longest one you’ve ever seen, as the images switch between loving moments in Lance’s life and Lance on the couch with blood pouring from his head. It’s a beautiful and completely disturbing death, and it was captured so carefully and excellently.
In the final two episodes, Henry goes through a grieving process. He seems to cry any time he is left alone, but does not want to cry around others. We have all been at a stage where we can relate to this. The flat that Henry, Freddie, and Dean occupy is rampaged and the illegitimate owner throws out the entire block, after which Henry develops a collective of LGBT companions (including Freddie) and invites them all to live with him in his house rent-free. Who would say no to that? It is arguable that this drastic life change for Henry was a serious coping mechanism, and that’s probably right, but I can’t be sure where Henry would have ended up without it.
Of course, the issue is that it’s unrealistic to live the party life every day. One by one they leave, and Henry sees them leaving, and sees himself one step closer to being alone each time. The last to leave is Freddie, who leaves and doesn’t return; in fact, he disappears. I didn’t want this at all. Even considering it was probably best for Henry, for my own selfish reasons I wanted Freddie to stay and have a friendship with Henry, but that’s not the life meant for either of them.
In our final scene, we jump six years into the future to the next time that Henry sees Freddie, when he meets him on the street. I swear this is a moment where you find those tears of joy you’ve been searching for during the episode. They catch up over coffee, and in a way so much has changed in both their lives, but it’s just the same between them as it has always been. It’s heartwarming, and in his final on-screen moments Henry admits something, both to us and to Freddie: that he has never just taken some time out to think about and come to terms with really being gay.
As I mentioned earlier, Cucumber was extraordinary for many reasons, a huge reason being that it brought up topics that were unseen on television, especially in relation to gay men. It takes an in-depth look at a teacher/student sexual relationship and the emotional manipulation behind it. It shows us the aftermath of a suicide related to criminal behaviour. It looks into relationships that involve a third sexual partner in various different circumstances, and the extreme measures taken to hide the shame behind that fact. We get a firsthand look into the lives of young straight boys making money on the Internet from men who get off on watching them, and we even get to know a wonderful woman who has undergone vaginal rejuvenation surgery and just wants to feel beautiful and wanted again.
Most importantly, Cucumber tells us the untold story of a man who has grown up afraid of being gay, so much so that he can’t even have sex with the man who he has loved for nine years of his life. Men in the real world share this fear and deserve to have their story told. Everyone deserves to have their story told, and there are so many unique stories in our community that need to be shared. That’s part of what Pride month is about to me, and that’s why I wanted to remind the world this Pride month about Cucumber, Banana, Tofu and the story of Henry Best. I urge you to go watch the whole thing. I guarantee that if you do, you won’t feel as alone once you’re finished. I certainly didn’t.