Embarrassing Bodies saw Channel 4 at its skin-crawling best: taking an equal delight in shocking, entertaining and informingby Peter Bazalgette / June 4, 2009 / Leave a comment
Embarrassing Bodies: bare your boils for the greater good
“Embarrassing illness” is not a phrase coined by Damian McBride, though he did hope to turn it into a weapon of mass detestation against David Cameron. McBride borrowed it from the 2008 Channel 4 series of that name. It has now been superseded by Embarrassing Bodies, which was transmitted through April and May, with a number of follow-up programmes in the pipeline for later this year. It’s presented by a knowledgeable, charming and lens-friendly team of medics who give you the sense that a rectal examination executed by them would be a privilege. They are led by Pixie McKenna, a no-nonsense Scot who dispatches patients with an antiseptic briskness, and Christian Jessen, a hunk with a melting charm and a bedside manner to match. One woman, Alison, who enters their telly-clinic complaining of a problem in the chest department is told by him: “If I may say so, you’ve got good boobs.” Steady doctor, steady.
The series, produced by Maverick, lays bare a rich and horrifying compendium of ailments: retrograde ejaculation, asymmetrical breasts, a bulbous tongue, leaking bladders, nasal polyps, swollen lips, rotting teeth, lumpy labia, angry leg rashes, knobbly eye bags, a hereditary funnel chest, weeping nipples, extreme hernias, malfunctioning lymph glands, an over-hirsute rectum…. “There’s no shame, we’re all the same,” say the programme’s trails. In view of that litany, I sincerely hope not.
All the aforementioned pestilences are filmed in lingering, loving detail and broadcast at 8pm. It has always been Channel 4’s role to outrage us and, at its best, it does it for a higher purpose. In this case, the series is part of an effective public health campaign. The jocular voiceover invites us to go to Channel 4.com for checklists on “boobs, balls and vulvas.” The Embarrasing Bodies sub-site enables anyone bothered by their breasts or troubled by their todger to compare said part of their anatomy with a gallery of other people’s private parts. All human genitals are there, in particular (for some reason) those of two hockey teams. There are short films on how to check for various cancers and useful health messages about the rapidly growing problem of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
Channel 4 gave me some impressive web statistics at the mid-series point. The online videos had been…