Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Cucumber: Episode 1

"It's not my fault they went and invented it."

I'm conscious that the only Russell T Davies scripts I've ever blogged have been Doctor Who. So I should say, for the sake of balance, that I've seen (and enjoyed) Casanova and The Second Coming and, indeed, Dark Season. I haven't, however, seen Queer as Folk which, I suspects, puts me at a slight disadvantage in that I cannot discuss Cucumber in relation to it.

Meh. Anyway, this is RTD's much-heralded "More Gay Men" project, a return to a style of drama grounded in relationships and human miscommunication rather than the science fiction he's written in the recent past. And it is, of course, brilliant. I'd forgotten how much I love his style; the lightness of touch as a means to approach heavy themes, and his signature brilliant dialogue. RTD once explained to Charlie Brooker that his characters, like real people, never quite listen to what the other person is saying; dialogue should not get "ping pong". He practises what he preaches to brilliant effect here as Sunil gets a distracted Henry to let him copy that fateful essay.

But let's step back a bit. Henry is 46, comically grumpy and in a more or less sexless relationship with Lance. He represents the older generation of gay men, who have had to struggle with AIDS and a more overt homophobia, and to whom recent advances like equal marriage are somewhat bewildering. In contrast we have the much younger Dean, who has things much easier in terms of both social attitudes and easy sex.

This is the story, more or less, of how Henry's life fall apart so in the space of twenty-four hours. It looks as though he's lost his relationship and his career, in both cases through an awkward failure to communicate clearly. This basic plot plays out with plenty of wit and hilarity to distract us, as always, from the pessimism about the human condition that always lies beneath RTD's work. 

Vincent Franklin deserves praise for making the prickly and waspish Henry likeable enough to work as a protagonist yet believable for us to despair at his attitudes. Perhaps his attitude has been shaped by his life, though; he's clearly not comfortable with the idea that he can now get married, he's only half joking in his ambivalence to other gay men, and he's never gone all out and had full penetrative sex. He still has one foot in the more repressive era of his youth, days of Section 28 and homophobic tabloids.

And yet we also get funny scenes like the neighbour politely asking him not to wank  where her children can see, and the man with yellow spunk. And yet both of these turn out to be tinged with tragedy.

I'm looking forward to next week. I don't pretend to be any more plugged into gay culture than the next Guardian reading heterosexual liberal, but I'm enjoying this as a drama that is both fun and has something to say. I've missed RTD.

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