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TV Review: Logo’s ‘Cucumber’ and ‘Banana’

With:
Vincent Franklin, Julie Hesmondhalgh, Freddie Fox, Cyril Nri, James Murray, Fisayo Akinade, Hannah John-Kamen, Andrew Hayden-Smith, Luke Newberry, Letitia Wright, Georgia Henshaw, Bethany Black

Viacom’s Logo TV has turned to Russell T. Davies, a partnership that makes such creative sense it’s a wonder that the network – devoted to LGBT issues – hasn’t relied on him more. The “Queer as Folk” creator responds with a fascinating idea, two separate series, “Cucumber” and “Banana,” which function independently but also feature overlapping and crossover characters. An hour and a half-hour, respectively, both shows (made possible via a partnership with BBC Worldwide North America) are watchable and fun, with one focusing on a middle-aged guy and the other a group of twentysomethings. For Logo, it’s a clear step up in class.

There’s not much Freudian subtlety in the titles or in “Cucumber’s” opening sequence, which finds middle-aged Henry Best (Vincent Franklin) wandering through a supermarket, agog over the chiseled young bodies he sees. Yet Henry is living the ultimate life of quiet desperation, enduring an uninspired (and unorthodox) relationship with his boyfriend (Cyril Nri) – whose patience is beginning to fray – and frustrated at work, where his reaction to a small slight triggers a major problem.

Moreover, Henry is harboring a rather uncomfortable secret, one that will ultimately help upend his rather mundane existence, bringing him more into the orbit of his young coworker Dean (Fisayo Akinade), whose roommate and occasional bed partner, Freddie (Freddie Fox), is the sort of unattainable young Adonis who causes Henry’s eyes to bug out. (Tonally speaking the ’70s French comedy “Pardon Mon Affaire,” badly remade as “The Woman in Red,” comes to mind.)

Davies has fun juxtaposing the free-spirited youngsters with the inordinately clenched and buttoned-up Henry, who doesn’t have much hair to let down even if he wanted to. But the show also detours to find interesting gradations in even side characters, exploring what Davies – whose credits also include “Doctor Who” and “Torchwood” – has wryly referred to as “50 shades of gay.”

Not everything works, but enough does, such as a chance encounter on the bus that triggers a silent fantasy sequence about an entire romance, distilled down to a few minutes.

Assuming U.S. viewers can get past some of the thicker accents, it’s the sort of solid serialized fare that can put a network like Logo on the map, and that further buttresses the importance of British co-productions in helping smaller cable operations deliver a higher quality of original programming, on a channel heretofore largely defined by “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and “Absolutely Fabulous” reruns.

So in terms of giving more viewers a reason to find Logo, Davies really is just what the doctor ordered.

TV Review: Logo's 'Cucumber' and 'Banana'

(Series; Logo, Mon. April 13, 10 and 11 p.m.)

Production: Filmed in the U.K. by the Red Production Co. for Channel 4 and Logo.

Crew: Executive producers, Russell T. Davies, Nicola Shindler, Julie Gardner; producer, Matt Strevens; director, David Evans; writer, Davies; camera, Jake Polonsky; production designer, Melanie Allen; editor, Mark Elliott; music, Murray Gold; casting, Andy Pryor. 60 MIN.    ***     Executive producers, Russell T. Davies, Nicola Shindler, Julie Gardner; producer, Emily Feller; director, Lewis Arnold; writer, Davies; camera, David Rom; production designer, Monica Black; editor, Paulo Pandolpho; music, Ben Foster. 30 MIN.

Cast: Vincent Franklin, Julie Hesmondhalgh, Freddie Fox, Cyril Nri, James Murray, Fisayo Akinade, Hannah John-Kamen, Andrew Hayden-Smith, Luke Newberry, Letitia Wright, Georgia Henshaw, Bethany Black

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