Last Night's TV: Embarrassing Bodies, Channel 4; Waking The Dead, BBC1
Glove story got just the right treatment
Tuesday 29 April 2008
The voiceover at the start of last night's Embarrassing Bodies told us that a team of doctors would be crossing the country in a mobile clinic "leaving no orifice unprobed" and within moments of them arriving in Leeds it was clear that the voiceover wasn't kidding, as a camera took us on a voyage up the fundament of a woman called Pauline, with John Logie Baird and Lord Reith doubtless going varying shades of purple in the celestial Green Room.
When Baird became the first person to transmit a moving image on television, and Reith defined the broadcaster's mission as being to "inform, educate and entertain", it is safe to say that neither of those beetle-browed Scotsmen expected the new medium, after 80 years of progress, to whisk the nation up a middle-aged woman's back passage. On the other hand, I can't claim that the spectacle wasn't informative and educational, even if it left something to be desired, entertainment-wise. On balance, and I admit it's a close-run thing, give me Cannon and Ball.
Still, it was fascinating to watch people who in some cases had been reluctant to visit their GPs with sensitive fungal complaints quite cheerfully dropping their underwear with a Channel 4 camera crew in attendance. What a strange age this is, when a TV camera is considered less invasive than a doctor's speculum. I hope Pauline had given full and considered thought to the looks she's going to get next time she's shopping at Morrisons. Maybe she'll get a round of applause. I for one was certainly very pleased on her behalf that the Embarrassing Bodies team were able to reassure her that what she described with a shaky voice as "this thing that I have", a little plectrum of skin at the entrance of her anus, was nothing to worry about, and could be surgically removed with ease. Apparently, her thing had been preventing Pauline from entering sexual relationships. "These men, they want to explore everything and anything," she said. I couldn't help thinking that her real problem was her men, not her thing.
Maybe that's Leeds for you. I don't know. I do know, thanks to the voiceover, that Leeds has a population of 700,000, which means that 50,000 are suffering from constipation, and 350,000 will get piles at some point in their lives. If I remember my limericks correctly, Leeds is also the home of the young man who swallowed a packet of seeds, with the unfortunate result that within an hour his nose was a flower and his head was a riot of weeds. That's the wholesome version, anyway. Strangely, he didn't turn up at the Embarrassing Bodies clinic.
A woman called Rachel did. She had psoriasis sores all over her body, and was referred to a place in London, where she was successfully given ultra-violet light treatment. Another woman, called Alison, was worried about her vagina. Needless to say, we got a full and frank view. It looked all right to me, but what do I know? Like Pauline, Alison was told that minor surgery was the answer, and went away happy. Embarrassing Bodies, which continues every night until Thursday, is surprisingly uplifting. Never mind Britain's Got Talent. Get Ant and Dec to present, replace Simon Cowell, Piers Morgan and Amanda Holden with three doctors, call it "Britain's Got Scabs", and it could be a hit show for Saturday evenings.
The BBC will be cross with me for giving such astute advice to its rivals, especially at a time when it needs as many hits as it can get. One of them is Waking the Dead, which each week presents a body beyond the help even of the Embarrassing Bodies team. Last night, it was that of a decapitated soldier found in a shallow grave, part one of a story concluding this evening. It's a story that, in no particular order, features filial love, parental guilt, military discipline, gay cruising, Iraq, equine parasites and advanced putrefaction.
The difference between decent British and American TV drama, I sometimes think, is that our writers try a little too hard. The plots of Waking the Dead surely don't have to be quite as labyrinthine as they are, and they measure up poorly against the perfect simplicity and economy of the marvellous Mad Men, for example. I know they're different kinds of show, but in a way that's irrelevant. Drama should engage, not bamboozle.
Waking the Dead gets away with its fiendishly complicated plots largely on account of its fine cast, superbly led by Trevor Eve, although my favourite is Tara Fitzgerald as the pathologist, Dr Lockhart. When did pathologists start looking like Tara Fitzgerald? They used to look like Jack Klugman. Anyway, beavering away in her lab (note to writers: lab stands for laboratory, not labyrinth), she found soil deposits under the deceased's fingernails, containing eggs from a parasitic worm that inhabits a horse's anal regions. I wasn't at all sure why that was relevant. I was too busy hoping that Pauline from Leeds wasn't watching.
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