Television Review: Body Story
Friday 11 December 1998
The series is intellectually crude in a good-natured, populist way. I imagine scientists hate it as much as geneticists disliked Jurassic Park. Biology is not my specialism, but some of the terminology concerned me. Do immune cells destroy invaders by "eating" them? And does the embryo really "burrow" or release enzymes which "melt" the lining of the womb? Some examples I found amusing, especially the succession of comparisons between fresh produce and the size of the developing foetus. After one week, we were told, the foetus is the size of a grain of rice. At six weeks, it had grown to kidney bean proportions, while three weeks later, it was as big as a grape. Maria's womb was next - at 16 weeks it was a case of "shall I compare thee to a tangerine?". What on earth was happening inside the poor woman, I wondered? At the end of the film it was a relief when she gave birth to a little girl. I'd been half expecting a plate of chilli con carne and a fruit salad.
Docu-dramas like Body Story pose interesting questions for educationalists; is the simplification in programmes like this so gross as to be a distortion of the facts? Or should attempts to popularise science be encouraged whatever form they take? And can this intellectual sacrifice be justified, either in terms of ratings or learning? There have been other bids to locate science on television - notably Adam Hart Davis's superb Local Heroes series - but Body Story is so outlandishly lavish that commissioning editors may have been unaware that it was a science programme at all, with its peculiar Terminator 2 meets Casualty sensibility.
Unusually for Jools Holland it was the music which let him down in last night's Havana-based Beat Route (BBC2). His on-the-road sessions with musicians are inconsistent in quality and presentation. One clip of the legendary pianist Ruben Gonzlez showed the great man's spindly Twiglet fingers tripping along the keys, but it was spoiled by an intrusive metronomic Latin drumbeat in the background. It seemed odd, too, that Holland didn't interview Gonzlez. Perhaps his visit coincided with the Afro Cuban All Stars' world tour.
Holland emerged as something of a political naif with his "Castro, what a character" routine segueing clumsily into an embarrassing commentary on the deprived girls of the local ballet school as he described costumes "hand-made by resourceful and loving mothers".
While spontaneity and improvisation should probably be cautiously encouraged within the context of travel shows, last night's dialogue was pretty woeful. Down at the Old Havana Docks, Holland noted, "This is, of course, where Ernest Hemingway used to hang out and get tarts and that." It was hardly Paul Theroux.
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