Russell T Davies writes very good sex. I mean, he writes very good everything. But he understands that sex – at its best, at its most disastrous, even at its most crushingly mediocre – has a story behind it. Or on top of it. Or fumbling nervously around its undergarments. That’s what Tofu is about. Real people talking openly and honestly about sex. Good sex, bad sex, real sex.
Also, Tofu. What a name.
When Russell first asked me to make a documentary series about sex (and of course I said yes, instantly), he explained that it would air on 4OD alongside two dramas he was writing for Channel 4 and E4, called Cucumber and Banana. “Are they about sex too?” I asked. He nodded. “And this 4OD series,” I said, “what’s that called?”
“Doesn’t matter,” he said. “People plus sex: the formula runs and runs.”
“Well, count me in,” I said.
“Tofu,” said Russell.
“It’s called Tofu.” With that, he disappeared in a puff of smoke right before my eyes. Russell T Davies shrunk, collapsed, and dwindled down into a bedpost, leaving the word “Tofu” hanging in the air.
People still do that, when I tell them we’ve made a show called Tofu. They frown a bit, or they think they’ve misheard, or they look a little nauseous, or aroused (okay, maybe not that last one, not yet), and sometimes they ask why anyone sensible would name a show after the spongiest, blandest, most tasteless of wannabe vegetables. “Well,” I say, “unlike tofu the food, Tofu the show is vibrant and gorgeous, and crammed full of smut, and it probably won't ruin your salad. Also, it’s a healthy alternative to meat.” “Are you talking about the food now, or the show?” they often ask. “I… don’t know anymore,” I admit.
So! Tofu! An eight-part documentary series, incorporating sketch comedy and fantasy elements, that explores modern sex in all its varied manifestations: the filthy and the raunchy – of which there’s plenty (after a year working on this show, my internet search history would make you blush) – sits side by side with tales of great beauty, sensitivity and bravery, the first sex, the virgins, the pressure, the sex-less, the tragedy, the heartbreak, the triumphs. Tofu explores the very real issues that are referenced in Russell’s incredible Cucumber and his groundbreaking Banana. Each episode sets our amazing cast – of over 40 engaging, charismatic interviewees – loose on that week’s topic: good sex, bad sex, not having sex, teenage lust, sex on TV, hook-up apps, coming out, and more.
And what a wonderful cast! We have younger people, older people, male people, female people, every gender, all the pronouns, straight, gay, bi, sex-obsessed people, take-it-or-leave-it people, people who have never had sex and aren’t afraid to say so…
There’s 54-year-old Chloë – who’s had to learn to make sex irrelevant to her life. “I will go to my grave wishing I’d had more sex,” she says.
There’s 26-year-old Michael – who once persuaded a girl to get her mum involved in a night of passion, and who lost his virginity in a disabled loo while a man in a wheelchair waited outside.
There’s Lucy – a professional dominatrix, who transitioned from male to female aged 43 (“It was fucking bliss,” she says), whose clients have included policemen, MPs, and a man who wanted her to surgically remove – and then replace – his testes. (She declined.)
There’s adult movie star Jake Bass – the Justin Bieber of porn, who cums so brutally that he has to cover his partners’ eyes. “It’s starting to be somewhat a problem.”
There’s Vladimir – a city trader who says the best sex is with hookers. “There are moments when they enjoy it,” he explains. “You can mutually have a great time.”
There’s 18-year-old Mark – who is preparing to come out to 40,000+ people, by filming a video and posting it on YouTube, “which is terrifying,” he admits.
There’s 57-year-old housewife Caroline – who’s had sex in a hospital, in a car park, at a train station, in a paddling pool, and with a banana. Amongst other things.
Then there’s Gary, Naith, Archie, Monica (a 60-year-old grandma who beds men in their twenties), Sam, Sarah, Felix, Mia (who once had sex under some stairs, earning her the nickname Harry Potter), Nigel, Jack, Jordan, Fabia, Sonia (who says semen is good for the skin: “Why do you think I look so young?” she teases), Mellissa, Tanya, Max, Nabil, Shirley, Scott, Chantelle, and the casts of Cucumber and Banana sharing their experiences too, all talking truthfully and openly about sex.
In the first episode, the glorious Bethany Black says: “Especially in this country, I think we have a fucked up idea about sex.” Well, Tofu is striving to change that. Cheeky, funny, sweet, relatable, shocking, thoughtful, probing, and always, painfully honest, Tofu will start discussions, enliven and enrich conversations, and illustrate, debate, and celebrate big ideas and taboos.
Tofu is a great name for a show, isn’t it? It is, shut up. Some people are Tofu. Get over it.
Cucumber launches on Channel 4 at 9pm on Thursday 22nd January with Banana following at 10pm on E4, and a serving of Tofu at 10.30pm on 4oD