Used to be that one could rely on the BBC for informative, well-researched, documentary-type shows about interesting subjects. Exploitation and sensationalism was never a part of it. No, that was for the more lowbrow channels. But it seems that now, in an effort to compete with vacuous reality television like KUWTK (Keeping Up With The Kardashians, in case you didn’t know!) and other such series which turn disabilities into curiosities (are we in the 1800’s?) for instance, Little People, Big World about dwarves, the self-inflicted maimed masses in Botched! or even Abby & Brittany: Joined for Life (actually a truly fascinating look at co-joined twins) the BBC has sunk to new depths to retain viewership. They appear to have cast aside any pretensions of remaining morally superior and have in fact, almost become the Daily Mail of TV.
Now, let me be clear, I am actually transfixed by some of these offerings which range from the unusual and the quirky to the completely grotesque and morbidly fascinating, which like a car-wreck, you want to pull away from, but cannot.
And therein lies the genius of this programming. To the left of the tabloid spectrum, verging on complete voyeurism but saved by the somewhat dour tone of the narrative, Extreme Hoarders was compelling. I mean really! How could you not watch a series about a man who has collected so much “stuff” (rubbish) through the years that he’s unable to move freely about his abode and hasn’t taken a shower for years. At least a psychologist tried to help the poor sod.
Unfortunately, there’s no counselling for anyone in the current series of Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents which, if nothing else, will dissuade any South African with children from even considering emigrating to the UK. In the series, teenagers go on terrible package tours holidays to Majorca, Ibiza or other islands overrun by party-going, booze-seeking Brits, unaware that they are being spied on by their parents with hidden cameras. Promiscuity, drugs, drinking (and often tattooing) ensue, usually to the point of illness. Sometimes, ambulances are called; often police intervene; near-drownings and street fights are common. Sometimes mum and dad laugh at the antics of their post-pubescent spawn. Mostly, the mums cry and the dads are disappointed. But, you don’t really feel sorry for them because they are obviously products of their environment. The best part is the big reveal when their parents saunter up to the kids casually as they nurse their hangovers under a straw canopy. Gotcha! If therapy post the programme was involved, perhaps it wouldn’t feel so unsettling.
Embarassing Bodies is upsetting in an entirely different way. Here, the un-shockable (at least on camera) doctors, including dashing Dr Christian Jessen (in a very Julian Sands Warlock way ) and the harmlessly-named Dr Pixie McKenna move from town to town co-opting candidates to share their most intimate problems with them. I always think about how much these people must need free medical advice to let the inside of their hairy anuses to be captured on telly. The woman with the giant vagina is welcomed into their clinic to see what can be done about it as is the man with heart-stopping halitosis. Definitely not for the squeamish.
Yet, it’s not just all peering into stranger’s cavities, there’s also enlightenment for us, the viewer. Have you been cleaning your ears with earbuds? Naughty, naughty! Don’t you know you’re supposed to use olive oil. I suppose the BBC can pat itself on the back for finding a TV formula which not only satisfies the unending curiosities of the reality TV generation but also claims to help people. Come back Richard Attenborough, all is forgiven.
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