When Russell T Davies seminal take on life in the Manchester gay scene, Queer As Folk, finished in 2000 diehard fans were left bemoaning the absence of a much-loved series that had lasted just one series and a couple of specials. That it seemed, was that.
How could anyone follow up a drama which was exciting as it was revelatory, and also made a star of Aidan Gillen following his unforgettable turn as the charismatic PR Stuart Alan Jones. Davies too went on to great things, becoming the man who revived Doctor Who and ran the show successfully for five years between 2005 and 2010.
But now, following a sneak peak given by Channel 4 at the Edinburgh TV Festival, it appears that the writer has made something that stands comparison with Queer as Folk in all sorts of ways.
Cucumber, Davies’ upcoming 8-part drama for Channel 4, looks at life for older gay men in Manchester, 15 years on from Queer as Folk and with gay marriage now a reality. And it a series which, judging by the preview scenes I have seen, has the verve, style and visual panache of its unofficial predecessor.
Vincent Franklin, (Stewart Pearson from The Thick of It) plays Henry Best, a man in his late 40’s who is in a committed relationship with his long term partner Lance, played by Cyril Nri.
Only problem is that the physical side of their relationship has never really existed, something which prompts Lance to seek some joy elsewhere in a moment of high comic humour (police are called in a moment when Boney M is playing very loudly, let’s put it like that).
The fallout is that Henry leaves their home and enters… a whole new drama, becoming one of the few older characters in companion series, E4’s, Banana.
A man who has been hilariously withering about some aspects of gay coupledom in Cucumber, Henry finds himself living in a whole new set of much younger people. Or as he puts in in a clip shown by Channel 4 at the Edinburgh TV Festival “we all live together in a great big gay house, being gay.” He also infatuated with a young heartthrob played by Freddie Fox….
From the few scenes we were shown Cucumber is squarely a relationship drama, but one which happens to involve gay people. This feels satisfying as it reflects the way gay life is now incorporated into the mainstream – we don’t have to think of Lance and Henry as just a gay couple (or for that matter a multiracial gay couple as Nri is black) but really just as a couple. This seems to nicely bookend Queer as Folk, showing how far gay liberation has travelled – but perhaps also how far it still has to go.
The clash of generations in both dramas seems tantalising – an older generation who had to fight for things like gay marriage and the younger generation who could be said by some to take it all a bit for granted. But we will have to wait for next year to see exactly what RTD has in store for us.
Oh yes, and a word on the titles. Or do you need me to explain? They refer to exactly what you think they refer to….
Cucumber and Banana will air on C4 and E4 next year respectively. Channel 4 will also curate an online factual strand called Tofu about modern gay life
Ben has worked as a professional journalist specialising in TV and the arts for nearly twenty years. After a two year stint on local newspapers in the mid 1990s, he spent more than 5 years as the broadcast reporter at the Stage newspaper. Following that he enjoyed staff reporting positions at the Sunday Mirror and the Sunday Times breaking stories and writing features before settling as a full time freelance writing for an array of newspapers and magazines - but mainly for the Guardian, Evening Standard, Broadcast, Independent and the New Statesman where he wrote a column.