TV UK, 3 June

Indecent exposure by BBC3 and BB5.

Dolan Cummings

Topics Culture

Bodies (BBC3, Wednesdays at 10.30pm) is like a more serious version of Channel 4’s No Angels (1). Its focus is on doctors rather than nurses, but it is barely more sympathetic to the beleaguered profession than its breezy counterpart.

While No Angels set out to overturn our exalted image of nurses (ahem) while confirming our worst prejudices about doctors, Bodies threatens to undermine any lingering trust we might have in doctors, and so its setting in an obstetrics and gynaecology department is particularly alarming. ‘Your health is in their hands…’ warn the posters ominously, and the programme itself offers a litany of professional incompetence, cover-ups and skewed priorities.

The BBC is keen to emphasise that Bodies was written by a former NHS doctor, Jed Mercurio, but while the drama no doubt benefits from his insider knowledge of the workings of the health service, its disturbing portrayal of human behaviour and relationships resonates beyond the wards of any hospital. The drama’s ‘seriousness’ is expressed in its pessimism about life in general as much as about the medical profession.

As its title might suggest, Bodies is equally serious about sexual taboo-breaking, a favourite occupation of TV dramatists in general. In last night’s episode we were shown menstrual blood on the sheets after a bout of extra-marital sex, and next week a different bodily fluid is tossed about in the same bed. Gritty? This drama is certainly pungent.

The same could be said about Big Brother 5 (Channel 4, every night…). Well, it stinks anyway. Even people who like Big Brother don’t like Big Brother 5, which puts me in mind of the episode of Friends in which Phoebe tells Ross she likes his awful home-made music until inexplicably he ‘loses it’, though nobody else can tell the difference. Bored people sitting about with a vague sense of sexual expectation in the air are no more or less entertaining now than they ever were. At least Friends, the last episode of which went out just before Big Brother on Friday night, had writers to give the bored people the odd funny line.

BB5 is noteworthy only for its ‘Big Brother gets evil’ tagline, which seems to confirm that the taboo-breaking tendency in drama is part of a broader trend towards greater exposure of the seedy side of life and human nature. A few weeks ago, the Mirror ran a story based on an advert it had put out for a fake reality show in which volunteers would be infected with exotic diseases (2).

The enthusiastic response was cited as evidence that people will do anything to be on TV, but it is clear that those sorry applicants took their lead from the people who run TV, both trivial and ‘serious’.

Read on:

spiked-issue: TV

(1) TV UK, 5 March

(2) Quarantine: how sick is reality TV?, Mirror, 11 May 2004

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Topics Culture


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