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2015 In TV: A Couple More Under The Radar Picks


In our quest to try to keep you from spending any time with your family this holiday season, we've been asking TV critics to make some suggestions of programs they think are flying under the radar, not getting the attention they deserve. Today, we turn to June Thomas. She is Slate's culture critic. Welcome to our program.

JUNE THOMAS: Thank you, Linda. Thank you for having me.

WERTHEIMER: So you're recommending two shows, "Banana" and "Cucumber." I gather we're not talking cooking shows here.

THOMAS: (Laughter) No, "Banana" and "Cucumber" are two intersecting shows. "Cucumber" is an hour-long series. It's about a middle-aged gay couple who, in the first episode, in the first hour, everything falls apart. The couple are Henry and Lance. Lance asks Henry to marry him and Henry just says...



CYRIL NRI: (As Lance Sullivan) OK.

FRANKLIN: (As Henry Best) Where did that come from? We never even talked about - it's not even on the radar. I don't actually know what you mean. Why on Earth would we do that?

NRI: (As Lance Sullivan) It doesn't have to be a big ceremony.

FRANKLIN: (As Henry Best) Yeah, but why would we do it? I don't understand why. We're happy, aren't we? Why would you want to change? Is there something wrong? Is there something you're not telling me?

NRI: (As Lance Sullivan) No.

FRANKLIN: (As Henry Best) Well, then.

THOMAS: And from that point on, everything in their lives that they were certain of just falls to pieces. And so the eight episodes are about putting their lives back together. And then "Banana" is a sort of intersecting show that's about the more peripheral characters in Henry and Lance's lives. The creator of these shows, Russell T. Davies, knew that he wanted to tell more stories, stories of young people, of trans people, of lesbians that you wouldn't necessarily have a chance to explore when you were really focusing on a middle-aged gay couple.

WERTHEIMER: So these sister shows do have an overlap of characters. There's also a companion web series called "Tofu."

THOMAS: Yes, that was created in Britain where the show originally aired. That was more of a real life parallel, as it were, where it was almost like a documentary-type content. But we never really got to explore that in the United States.

WERTHEIMER: Well, so how would you describe this new universe of TV shows?

THOMAS: I think that there is a cheekiness to them. You know, they're set in Manchester, which happens to be my hometown in England, but it's a place where people aren't allowed to take themselves too seriously. There's a lot of humor, a lot of just kind of grittiness. So there's a realism to the shows. There's also a weird interweaving of magical realism, you would almost say, so that while the shows are about what it's like to be alive now - specifically what it's like to be gay now - so people are often using hookup apps or sending texts to people, there are also these elements of there are almost ghosts that appear. There's a skipping around in time. So while it's extremely realistic and very funny, it's also, you know, very profound in a way of showing our connections to a larger world.

WERTHEIMER: Maybe this is a place to say that this may not be something your fifth grader would want to watch.

THOMAS: No, that's right. It is an adult show. And a lot of what happens in the show, many of the misadventures, are driven by sexual desire and how that often leads us to make poor choices. So it is about sex and sexual hang-ups, but certainly there's nothing that's unacceptable about it.

WERTHEIMER: You mentioned the show creator Russell T. Davies. He also created "Queer As Folk" in 2000. So is this a - he's coming back to what worked for him before?

THOMAS: He did indeed make the original "Queer As Folk," and then he revived "Doctor Who." To me, his presence is key because he's got such a sure hand. He's a very beautiful writer. He manages to spring surprises, which if you watch television, you're very rarely surprised. You always can see what's coming.

WERTHEIMER: You can just about sing along, yeah.

THOMAS: It's the typical dilemma of the frequent TV watcher. But he really is able to make you think you know what's coming and then absolutely surprise you. And it's just a fantastically pleasurable experience.

WERTHEIMER: June Thomas writes about culture for Slate Magazine. Thank you so much.

THOMAS: Thank you, Linda. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.