Television Review

ON A BEACH, somewhere in England, sits a bright yellow Fiat Cinquecento. Peering over its chugging engine is a man with a bushy moustache. He is Robert Winston and the car is an aid to understanding. It represents the capacity of the ancient human brain - a mere half litre. Winston then slams the boot shut to reveal a bright red sports car behind him, a flattering representative for the modern human brain, which is three times larger. As a visual shorthand for cognitive ascent, this was pretty good - a strong graphic representation of an increase in power and speed. Unfortunately, I missed the next two crucial sentences in the commentary because at least half a litre of my wife's brain was noisily preoccupied in establishing precisely what marque of sports car it was.

This is always the hazard of metaphor on television - it's all too easy to be distracted by the fact that the comparative element is there on screen, seductive in its concrete presence. But, since its frankly alarming opening episode - which suggested that the BBC had capitulated to the Amazing Facts school of documentary - The Human Body (BBC1) has been fairly sensible about the way it employs such devices. Later in last night's programme, which concentrated on "the most complicated object in the known universe", Winston offered another image to help viewers grasp the slippery conceptual surface of his topic. He asked you to imagine a city the size of New York in which every inhabitant had 10,000 pieces of string, each of which was tied to another person. Now increase the size of the city by a factor of 10 and - provided you hadn't got bogged down in nit-picking about breaking strain and knot protocol - you would have a rough model for the neuronal networks in the human skull. Tempting as it must have been to cats-cradle a Manhattan skyscraper, the producers (or the accountants) had declined to film this image. When Winston used a termite mound as a model for the nature of the human mind, on the other hand, the muddy teaching aid was included - an effective Dorling Kindersley illustration of the way in which simple units can construct complicated objects.

What you won't hear in this programme is a phrase like "emergent complexity" (which is what Winston was talking about) or, more importantly, an acknowledgement that there are quite a few scientists who would hotly dispute that the mind is anything like a termite mound at all. This is because this is a series which combines very large ambitions with very small ones. The large ambitions concern its visual appeal - a constant search for stimulating or novel or revealing material. All three were combined last week in what was presumably the first moving film of a male erection to be shown on British TV (tastefully silhouetted in the garish colours of a heat-detecting camera), while this week showed the less unprecedented sight of a presenter drunk on screen. In previous cases, the drunks have usually been trying to conceal the fact - here Winston, a bottle-and-a-half into a demonstration of the brain-altering properties of Cabernet Sauvignon, was happy to let his slips show. "Some people just get blurrigerent, belligerent," he slurred, in a montage of increasingly hopeless attempts to film a link. The sequence was enjoyable, but what it told you, at some length, was that people get drunk when they absorb alcohol.

This is where we get to the small ambitions, which is the only way to describe the primer level of much of the information conveyed. If The Human Body really is for adults, then our education system is in a slightly more parlous state than anybody has so far admitted. A more charitable way to think of it would be as the finest children's programme the BBC has made for many years.

It was reported yesterday that The Jerry Springer Show had been censured by a broadcasting watchdog for inviting viewers to laugh at an obese man's appearance. This is ominous news for Fantasy World Cup Live (ITV), which would be about four minutes long if the element of physical mockery and personal abuse was removed. It is, of course, thoroughly reprehensible and childish. Unfortunately, it is often far too funny to switch off. And when the abuse is aimed at David Mellor, one of the more pompous beneficiaries of the World-Cup pundit gravy-train, all moral qualms take an early bath.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum