TV review: The Greatest Shows on Earth, Channel 4 - Daisy Donovan explores the buttockular world of Brazilian beauty pageant MissBumBum2012

Rick Stein's India, BBC2
  • @tds153

Who says television teaches you nothing? For example, I now know, though sadly do not exemplify, the Second Rule of the Beautiful Bottom, as explained by a plastic surgeon on one of Brazil's more popular television shows. Let your arms dangle by your sides... now, "the first metacarpal bone should be in line with the infra gluteal fold". Or in layman's terms, the first bone of your thumb should be level with the horizontal crease below your buttocks. The First Rule of the Beautiful Bottom, in Brazil at least, appears to be If You've Got It Flaunt It, which explains MissBumBum2012, the buttockular talent show that was Daisy Donovan's first port of call in The Greatest Shows on Earth, a new series about global telly.

"Television," she maintains, "is a window into the soul of a nation." I don't know about that, but it's certainly an open door to cultural superiority. That's part of the appeal of this series, as well as the delicious hypocrisy of being able to gawp at trash and despise it simultaneously, a human pleasure that has already been satisfied several times before on television, most notably by Clive James. Oddly, although Donovan started her career in cheerfully vulgar prank television, she's much more fretful than James here. Where he used terrible television as a springboard for his own jokes, she tends to drift to the sidelines and look uneasy. One element of the format is that she gets involved in the shows she's talking about, a device that led to more than one awkward moment. "It's a bit disconcerting being a woman here and not being dressed in dental floss," she said, when she found herself at the MissBumBum2012 final, in the company of a hundred salivating male bloggers and several glum-looking female journalists.

Donovan also sat in on the audience for a popular daytime entertainment show and made a brief appearance on Na Mira, a Brazilian Crimewatch equivalent that largely seemed to consist of showing fresh (and not-so-fresh) corpses, in between ads for slimming tablets. And she interviewed a survivor of Panico, a popular elimination show that puts bikini-clad beauties through a variety of demeaning ordeals, including a naked water slide event called Drowning the Goose. Drowning the goose is a Brazilian euphemism for sexual intercourse, another thing I didn't know before I watched this programme. I'm genuinely glad I do know it now, but I'm still not sure that the format for The Greatest Show on Earth quite works, with its uneasy blend of sociological analysis, jaunty participation and delirious gawping. I was also left wondering what a Brazilian equivalent of Donovan might take to show to the folks back home. Embarrassing Bodies would be a good candidate I think. They do what! Are they mad?!

Donovan heads for India next week, which rarely fails to deliver something of interest. Rick Stein is just back after touring the continent for Rick Stein's India, his latest culinary travelogue. He started characteristically, by getting shirty with the series producer, Dave, who'd asked whether they might not get a better curry back home. (Dave knew exactly what he was doing. It was like a boy prodding a billy goat with a stick). But mercifully the programme steered clear of some other sub-continental clichés. He didn't have to stand in the street looking dazed while rickshaws whizzed past him, and he didn't, as far as I can remember, use the words "vibrant" or "vital". The best bit was when he went to the prestigious Madras Club, where locals go when they fancy "an English". Most popular dishes are roast beef and shepherd's pie, but Stein went to watch them make mulligatawny, a fine broth of Victorian nursery appetite and piquantly Indian ingredients. It looked nothing at all like the cow-pat coloured liquid I recall passing under this title, but I have a feeling that was a good thing.