REVIEW / Seeing the funny inside of the mating game

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
'FOR THOSE who've enjoyed the natural process of falling in love,' said Desmond Morris, 'it's the end of the long courtship sequence.' And for those aroused by the natural process of watching BBC trailers, you thought. The long courtship sequence over, we were at last going to get the intercourse sequence, already well publicised as offering the first internal view of a female orgasm.

Internal views of male orgasms? Been there, seen that. David Attenborough narrated his way through one of those murky explosions a good few years back, in a Scandinavian documentary about foetal development. The Morris version was a bit like an airbag going off inside a crimson pup-tent, something of a white- out after the first few microseconds, but I have to confess that the female orgasm was a startling thing to watch, the cervix clenching and expanding like a pupa doing a Meg Ryan impression.

We also saw the first film of killer sperm fighting off rivals, which made two genuine novelties inside two minutes, a rather breathtaking acceleration after some 48 minutes of ambling commonplaces. Because, for the most part, The Human Animal is the most engagingly risible series the BBC has broadcast for a good few years, its innate comedy (man as animal has a distinguished satirical history) perfectly distilled by the innocent deadpan of Morris, a man so intent on watching everybody else that he can't see how ridiculous he looks himself.

A less earnest man might have been wary of asking 'Why have we abandoned the eight-second mating act of the typical baboon?', conscious that it might prompt raucous female laughter from the back of the hall. A man less dogged in pursuit of theory might have decided to rephrase the information that 'careful research in certain nightclubs has revealed that the closer girls are to the moment of ovulation the skimpier their costume will be', aware that the mental picture this prompted might not be entirely consistent with scientific dignity. The high-court solemnity of 'certain nightclubs' was a touch of comic genius.

But Morris obviously hasn't got a clue that anyone might find this funny; he's too busy translating the obvious into vaguely scientific language. Very vague sometimes - discussing late adolescence, Morris noted that 'all over the world young adults can be observed gathering together in large informal groups'. 'Gosh, just like wildebeest,' I suppose you were meant to think, but if you actually did any thinking the sentence evaporated like aerosol cream. It was, in any case, almost instantly contradicted by film showing young adults gathering in highly formal groups.

When Morris sidled in front of a graffitied wall dressed in a flasher's mackintosh, my tenuous grip on a straight face finally collapsed and I began to utter the strange barking yelps so characteristic of the primeval derision display. Instinct and biology will out.

Sync or Swim (C4), Kate Bannatyne's film about synchronised swimming, had to be cautious about the ridiculous too. She was right not to go for the easy laughs but there were times when she seemed to have strayed a little too far in the other direction, delivering something too much on its best behaviour. This dulled the pleasure a little - it's possible, after all, to be amazed and even amused by the sport without being snotty about those who take part in it. But, apart from one sly shot of judges tapping their toes to a Grease medley, Bannatyne wasn't taking any risks: 'Why do you need nose clips?' she asked solemnly at one point, which was as dumbly ingenuous as asking a polo- player whether the pony helps at all.