The Weekend's TV: City Beneath the Waves: Pavlopetri, Sun, BBC2 / Fry's Planet Word, Sun, BBC2

Trip back in time goes swimmingly

Obviously, everyone on the planet was watching The X Factor last night. That or Antiques Roadshow. They are, incidentally, virtually the same programme: it is, in my experience, entirely possible to tune into one and spend a good 15 minutes under the delusion that you are watching the other, especially while Louis' oldies ("The Overs") are still in the game, which they still are, this weekend marking only the first in the marathon stretch of live shows that will see us occupied until Christmas. They tend to be the first voted out, the olds – them or "the Groups" – though this year they've got Tulisa, so I reckon they'll stay. Really, when you think about it, The X Factor missed a trick not signing up Fiona Bruce to mentor.

Anyway, for those (three? four?) of you who weren't gripped to the ruminations of Barlow et al, there was City Beneath the Waves: Pavlopetri. And very good it was, too, if underwater archaeology is your thing. It's not, I should say, mine, which makes the programme rather hard to review since I was literally propping up my eyelids at the merest thought of watching Professor Jon Henderson and his hunky team from Australia (he's not from Australia, he's from Scotland) dust off a few stones on the sea floor.

But, like so many things in life, when you dread them, they usually turn out to be OK. And it was OK. More than OK, to be honest. X Factor-loving philistine though I am, even I can recognise the inherent amazingness of heading out for a swim and discovering a city that was built more than 5,000 years ago. Which is more or less what oceanographer Nic Flemming did, only he was in a boat and vaguely looking, so it's not completely stumbling. He returned a year later with a bunch of Cambridge students and began work uncovering what little we know about the city.

Now Henderson and his Australians are here. Their task was to use the latest technology – 3D mapping devices, robotic missiles, real-time photo re-creation (this, I'm afraid, is where my eyes glaze over) – to get a grasp of what life was like for Pavlopetri-dwellers back in the day. Using artefacts collected from the sea floor, they managed to piece together a picture of a remarkably complex society, one in which people were buried in ceremonial tombs, imports and exports were closely monitored, and fashions were copied from the rich and famous. One ceramic urn was virtually identical to the style favoured by the sophisticates of nearby Crete. Theirs would come in metals and other expensive materials, but over in Pavlopetri it was plain old ceramic. "It's like buying a cheap knock-off of a designer bag," said Henderson. That, I think, was my favourite fact.

If City Beneath the Waves: Pavlopetri was a struggle, I positively sailed through Fry's Planet Word. It was, I think, the best episode yet: with slang and swearwords on the menu, it included the rather delightful sight of Stephen Fry, elbow-deep in a tank of water, chanting the word "fuck" in a state of frenzied distress. The point of the experiment was to show how swearing helps in stress management; chanting "functional", he could only keep his hand in for a fraction of a time. When Brian Blessed gave it a go ("bollocks", this time, versus "wooden"), the disparity diminished: Blessed's a frequent swearer, so the taboo of the word was that much smaller, and its pain-reducing properties that much less.

It wasn't just straightforward profanity that got a look in (though there were some brilliant bits involving Jess, who has Tourette's, meaning she yelps out "biscuit", "Happy Christmas", and "fuck" at regular intervals, as well as an interview with The Thick of It creator Armando Iannucci about the trade-offs in getting the BBC to broadcast Malcom Tucker's florid speeches: three C-words in exchange for five Fs and so on). Over in Turkana, East Africa, Fry asked some local tribes people what the worst insults they could throw at one another would be. "You have the penis of a donkey," rated pretty high.

Curiously, swear words and slang surrounding sex have become gradually less and less offensive. Likewise, the human body – think of piss, for instance. Anyone can say it! Piss, piss, piss. Others, though, have become more taboo – those regarding race and sexuality. Stephen K Amos was very interesting on the perceived double standard that dictates that it's OK for black people – comedians, rappers – to deploy the N-word in conversation, but not for white people, even without racist intent. It's not a double standard, was the overall conclusion. Which seems fair enough to me.

a.jarvis@independent.co.uk

twitter.com/aliceazania

Arts and Entertainment
Britain's Got Talent judges: Simon Cowell, Amanda Holden, Alesha Dixon and David Walliams

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Healy of The 1975 performing on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival, at Worthy Farm in Somerset

music
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe Withnail and I creator, has a new theory about killer's identity
Arts and Entertainment
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Emilia Clarke could have been Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey but passed it up because of the nude scenes

film
Arts and Entertainment
A$AP Rocky and Rita Ora pictured together in 2012

music
Arts and Entertainment
A case for Mulder and Scully? David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in ‘The X-Files’

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
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.

    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific
    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    Dame Colette Bowe - interview
    When do the creative juices dry up?

    When do the creative juices dry up?

    David Lodge thinks he knows
    The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

    Fashion's Cher moment

    Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
    Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

    Health fears over school cancer jab

    Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
    Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

    Weather warning

    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
    LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

    High hopes for LSD

    Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
    German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

    Saving Private Brandt

    A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral