At first, as a group of middle-aged British gay men sit jabbering about male bodies, and sharing photos of naked men on their phones, the Logo series “Cucumber” is a turnoff. Named after a state of phallic arousal (more on the title later), the hourlong drama quickly promises to subscribe to the tired and harmful stereotype of gay men who think of nothing but sex and penises, who are overcompensating for a history of disapproval of their attractions, who are eternally locked into an adolescent view of life and love.
But I am happy to report that it gets better. Much better.
“Cucumber” is from Russell T Davies, the extraordinary Welsh TV writer and producer known for his groundbreaking “Queer as Folk,” for rebooting “Doctor Who,” and for creating “Torchwood.” His new show, which premieres Monday at 10 p.m. on Logo, is indeed largely about gay men and it is extremely sexually frank in the manner of “Queer as Folk.” But it expands beautifully from the stereotypes, ultimately giving us portraits of very specific men and women and their very human trepidations regarding aging, attachment, self-esteem, and romance. By the end of the first episode, after a marriage proposal and a calamitous threesome, I was happily hooked.
“Cucumber” is set in Manchester — it just finished its eight-episode run in the United Kingdom — and it focuses on Henry, who is 46 and bored with his insurance company job and his partner of nine years, Lance (Cyril Nri). Played with great realism by Vincent Franklin, Henry is a cranky guy who easily slips into rants, thinks mostly of himself, and lies when it’s convenient for him. He is stubbornly impermeable, both emotionally and sexually, a theme that Davies handles with great psychological insight as the story develops. And yet Franklin manages to make Henry not just tolerable but a sympathetic hero, a man always wondering, like our own Don Draper, if that’s all there is.
Henry’s life falls apart during a brilliant sequence that involves his cellphone; Davies really knows how to blend tech into his story lines. And so Henry finds himself mixing with some of the much younger gay men and lesbians from his office. They include the charming but unformed Dean (Fisayo Akinade) and the vain Freddie (Freddie Fox), who share a massive but chilly loft that may not be legal, as well as the sweet Scotty (Letitia Wright, who is irresistible). As he tries to fit in with them, Henry has to face some of his insecurities — a process that is both painful and satisfying to watch.
This younger group on “Cucumber” is the fuel for “Banana,” a half-hour sister series that premieres on Monday at 11. For “Banana,” Davies singles out one younger character from “Cucumber” — Dean in the first episode, Scotty in the second — and sets him or her in a small, contained plotline. We follow Dean on a visit to his parents, for example, which takes a marvelous — and very un-“QAF”-like — turn, and we see Scotty pursue a crush a little too aggressively. These episodes of “Banana” are lovely self-standing short stories that build to revelatory moments, but then they also add scope and layers of depth to “Cucumber.” It’s a great idea, and if it sounds forced or parlor-tricky, it’s not. Watch Dean run through the entire arc of a relationship while watching an attractive man on a bus; it’s magical.
There’s actually a third related series, “Tofu,” a documentary web series by Benjamin Cook about LGBT life that’s available on YouTube.
Davies took his titles from a European study of the stages of the male erection, with tofu at the flaccid end of the spectrum. I’m not sure I understand how the story of Henry and Lance corresponds to the cucumber, except perhaps ironically, but I trust Davies to make sense of it. He is a master TV storyteller who has earned our faith.