THE cucumber is the Father Stone of the vegetable community.
In case you need reminding who Father Stone is, he’s the boring priest who features in the second episode of Father Ted.
Father Stone, played with deadpan
brilliance by Michael Redmond, is so pathologically tedious he makes watching paint dry feel like skydiving without a parachute.
The cucumber is also boring. You can slice it, dice it, boil it, grill it, pickle it, shove it between two slices of bread and pretend it’s a sandwich, or stick it in a casserole (but only if you don’t plan on eating it later). It doesn’t make any difference; boring, boring, boring.
Compared to the Philip Schofield that is the cucumber, a floret of broccoli is Brad Pitt and a carrot is George Clooney. I’ve never met anyone who owns up to actually liking cucumbers.
People endure them in the same way they endure the films of the late John Cassavetes. You know they’re probably good for you and you consume them with the best of intentions, but they’re not a hell of a lot of fun to get down.
Cucumber the series, which continues tonight on Channel 4, is, on the other hand, the opposite of boring. It’s fast, furious, funny, and superbly directed and acted – not least by Vincent Franklin (previously best-known for playing idiotic Tory spin doctor Stewart Pearson in The Thick of It) as its chief protagonist: Henry, a middle-aged man who’s going through, as most middle-aged men do at some point, a bit of a crisis.
It’s also very, very, very gay – “explicitly gay”, as one piece of pre-broadcast publicity put it. Much like cucumber the vegetable, Cucumber the series has proved to be a bit of a turn-off. The audience for the first episode last month was 1.3 million, roughly a third below Channel 4’s average in that timeslot.
Its accompanying series, Banana, which goes out on E4 an hour later and follows the lives of the younger characters from Cucumber, picked up 400,000 viewers.
You could put the disappointing viewing figures down to sickening homophobia, which seems to be on the rise again (on a personal note, one of my daughter’s gay college friends was viciously attacked by a couple of thugs last week), or you could put it down to something else: the fact that most television dramas featuring gay people always seem to feel the need to put sex front and centre. Why?
At the risk of sounding like the straight man who says, “I have gay friends, but . . .”, I DO have gay friends. And the “but” is they don’t put sex front and centre. It never, if you’ll pardon the unintentional lewdness, comes up.
They have other things to be worrying about: you know, mortgages, money, health, the price of petrol, whether they’re still going to have a job next week. The things everyone, gay or straight, worries about.
There’s quite a bit of sex in Cucumber and Banana, both of which are written by Russell T Davies. Davies, who wrote the ground-breaking Queer as Folk, is a fantastic television writer and even a bit of a visionary. Who else could have imagined reviving Doctor Who, pronounced dead in the 80s, and turning it into a bankable franchise?
Cucumber and Banana, however, add up to a safe, boring cliche: the cliche of gay men as people obsessed with sex, looks, fashion, erections and Judy Garland, rather than just people, all of which is a disappointment in a drama about gay men written by a gay man.
Ironically, it’s soap operas, supposedly the lowest form of television drama, that depict gay people as being what they are. Normal.