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WARNING: This review contains spoilers.
So Banana is the younger, ‘hipper’ sister of Channel 4’s Cucumber. Pitched instead at E4’s demographic, Banana is the LGBT version of Skins – only with better writing.
This opening episode features Fisayo Akinade’s character Dean. Revealed to be something of a gobshite, he makes up a family that has rejected him (an extension, perhaps, of Nathan’s exaggerations in Queer as Folk), and regularly portrays himself as a victim. But unlike the awful protagonist of Cucumber, Henry, Dean is full of charm and verve, where Henry seems full of self-loathing. Dean comes from another age – one where parents often are accepting of their LGBT children and, in this case, seem actually quite supportive. Being gay is therefore less of a problem for Dean than it might be for an older generation.
Dean lives with Freddie (they’ve both had it off, of course), and we soon learn that Dean isn’t pulling his weight at home (he owes £400 to their ‘gangster’ landlord). Dean also struggles with premature ejaculation – a fact Freddie delights in teasing him about. It’s these shortcomings which make Dean human, but it’s the way Fisayo Akinade seems to joyfully portray him that makes us like him.
I really liked Dean’s relationship with his parents, and I liked the number of black faces in this episode. We rarely get shows with predominantly ethnic minority casts on TV any more (remember The Fresh Prince of Bell Aire?), so to see a show that focussed on both LGBT and black lives together was a really pleasing experience. Yes, there’s probably too much focus on Dean’s cock, but being so used to the dire standard of TV these days, I felt positively spoiled!
There are lots of (often topless) hot men in Banana. Lots of well-toned, able-bodied men who are black, white, mixed race, younger and older. But the slick sex scenes we’d expect to see are often playfully subverted – one ends early, due to Dean’s premature ejaculation problem, and another is revealed to be an elaborate daydream on a bus. Grindr also plays a big part – with Dean using it to stalk one of his ‘conquests’ – and here we get to see more than just city centre lofts, as the action moves to a traditional Manchester council estate.
Andrew Hayden-Smith is hot in his cameo, and I suspect we’ll see more of him in future episodes. Frankie I liked less – he struck me as unrealistic, the way adults think kids speak when they want to seem ‘hip’, as though a cast-off from Skins. There were also hints that we might get a lesbian episode in the series, too, which would make for a welcome change (I mean, how awful was Lip Service? And Sugar Rush was simply too long ago).
Banana isn’t the smartest drama around but it’s got heart. It’s more Hollyoaks than This Life, but it’s fun and it’s funny. There are shades of Queer as Folk again (‘Can I see you again?’ ‘Absolutely not!’ mirrors Nathan asking Stuart the same question), but overall the series feels free and less self-referential. This is its strength, because it means the show can move further away from the world of Queer as Folk – a world which is very different now, and no longer as taboo or as dangerous.
Meanwhile, I’ve watched Cucumber and Banana, but I still can’t help but wonder what happened to the characters from Queer as Folk – even after all these years.