Philosophising about the 'S'-word: Watch… and learn
Banana is a 2015 British television series created by Russell T Davies and aired on E4. The sister series to Channel 4’s Cucumber and the 4oD documentary series Tofu, Banana is a series focusing on LGBT youth in Manchester, on the vicinity of the Cucumber narrative. Unlike Cucumber, which is a self-contained serial following the story of one gay man, Banana is an anthology series focusing on the wider LGBT spectrum.
Banana develops some of the storylines of characters featured in Cucumber as well as introducing many new characters. Banana is primarily a self-contained series, occasional overlapping with the Cucumber narrative. Cucumber, Banana, and Tofu are all named after the same scale of erection hardness, with Banana symbolising the middle of the scale from the flaccid Tofu to the fully erect Cucumber.
Banana was commissioned in 2013 as a sister show to Davies’ long-developed project Cucumber, along with the online documentary series Tofu. The three series refer to a urological scale of erection hardness, which consists of tofu, peeled banana, banana, and cucumber. Unlike Cucumber, which focuses primarily on middle-aged gay men, Banana focuses on LGBT youth in Manchester that are on the periphery of the Cucumber narrative. The two series are primarily linked through the crossover character of Dean Monroe (Fisayo Akinade), who appears as a major character in both series, and are contrasted by social acceptance of the characters; whereas Akinade’s character is more “open and confident” about his sexuality, the characters of Cucumber are former activists whose sexuality had to be less open.
Whereas Davies’ 1999–2000 series Queer as Folk focused on gay men in the Canal Street club scene, Cucumber is a self-contained serial following the story of one middle-aged gay man, Henry Best (Vincent Franklin, The Office, Being Human, Happy Valley), Banana is an anthology series focusing on young characters across the LGBT spectrum. The show notably casts the first transgender actor in a transgender role in a UK television series, with comedian Bethany Black (Cucumber) portraying Helen, a transsexual woman. Davies insisted that a transgender actor be cast as Helen, going so far as to alter the script until Black was cast at the eleventh hour; Black was vocal in her praise for this, contrasting the decision with the casting of Jared Leto as a trans woman in the recent film Dallas Buyer’s Club, which she described as “a cisgender guy trying to play what he thought a trans woman would be like”, and compared cisgender actors playing transgender roles to blackface portrayals in shows such as It Ain’t Half Hot Mum. Helen’s episode will also feature Cucumber character Cleo Wilkinson (Julie Hesmondhalgh, Happy Valley), in a scene that symbolises a “passing of the baton” between Hesmondhalgh—the cisgender actress who portrayed the transsexual woman Hayley Cropper in Coronation Street between 1998 and 2014—and Black and the wider trans community.