Part 1: Cucumber, Banana & Tofu
For many of us, learning about sex happens predominantly through the films and TV that we watch, especially in those formative teenage years when we’re anxiously straddling childhood and adulthood. But for so long, there wasn’t nearly enough representation in the media of positive attitudes towards sex. We hadn’t had the collective sexual awakening that we so desperately needed. Things like anal sex toys and bondage gear were still taboo topics of conversation let alone appropriate material for onscreen, even in the 90s and early 00s. Thankfully shows like HBO’s seminal series Sex and the City slowly started paving the way for more frank onscreen discussions of sex and relationships.
Particularly in the last two decades, western society has been pushing for a more liberal (and at times more radical) approach to sex in film and TV. We are seeing more and more shows take up the mantle by portraying modern stories with progressive attitudes and environments; stories that celebrate sex in all its visceral glory and provides informative sex education. Here at Flirt, we’ll be doing a series on sex and sex education in TV shows for your reading pleasure. Part one features Russell T Davies’ hit trilogy Cucumber, Banana & Tofu.
Following the success of his critically acclaimed 1999 series Queer as Folk, 2015 saw the much-anticipated release of three shows from Davies on Channel 4 and its sister platforms, E4 and 4oD. The trilogy focused on attitudes towards sex in the LGBTQ+ community. Cucumber (C4), Banana (E4) and Tofu (web series on 4oD) take a look at the lives and social dynamics of gay men and women living in Manchester in the 21st century, with some overlap in characters between the first two shows.
The title of the trilogy is a reference to the entertaining metaphor apparently employed by sexologists for varying strengths of an erection – from the flaccid Tofu, to the semi Banana, to the fully erect Cucumber. The titles alone are intriguing enough to pull viewers in, so if you haven’t heard of these shows, we highly recommend checking them out.
Cucumber follows Henry Best (Vincent Franklin) on a journey of sexual rediscovery after the breakdown of a long-term relationship. The series focuses predominantly on life for older gay community in Manchester’s LGBT scene. Following the split, Henry moves into a chaotic house-share with a group of younger men, an experience which offers a stark contrast between his generation and the younger generation and what it means to be a gay man in the mid 2010s.
Banana takes a playful and humorous look at modern relationships and LGBT life, following eight different couples as they embark on contrasting journeys of heartbreak, drama, love and friendship. The show is refreshingly frank in the way its characters discuss and participate in sex, with sharp, witty dialogue framing the eight stories in the anthology, all of which come together in an earnest celebration of love without labels.
Presenter Ben Cook explores modern sex lives in the documentary series Tofu, which differs in format to the other two shows but continues to focus on a range of attitudes towards sex. Using interviews with the cast from Cucumber and Banana as well as members of the public, viewers get a chance to hear people dish the dirt on all things hot and steamy in this exclusive online series.All three shows in the trilogy do an incredible job of enlightening viewers through thoughtful questions and breaking taboos around sex, depicting the lives of the LGBTQ+ in today’s modern world with energy and passion.