Daytime TV: Sex, filth, but no dirt

Gary Day watches out-of-control teenage bodies, an unkempt Russell Brand and a cleaned-up Dickens

November 6, 2008

The hour for quality time with the daughter, who was busy styling her hair, had arrived. So we sat down to watch Embarrassing Teenage Bodies (Channel 4, Thursday 9pm). Why I thought this was a good idea, I don't know. But we learn from our mistakes. "This is the most disgusting programme I have ever seen!" said the daughter.

And going by those bits I could bear to watch, I had to agree.

British teenagers have the worst sexual health in Europe. Something needs to be done. The glamorous Dr Dawn Harper marched around the streets of Manchester during freshers' week with a placard offering a free chlamydia test. Meanwhile, the equally glamorous Dr Pixie McKenna tells Lindsay not to worry as half the population have vaginas.

Lindsay is relieved but still wants surgery - don't ask. "Can we have a look at the finished operation?" asks Dr Pixie. "Shall we have a look?"

Immaculate in tuxedo, the equally glamorous Dr Christian Jessen steps into the night and asks a bunch of students to put a condom on a plastic penis. They don't do so badly, but it might become more of a problem when they try to roll it over a real one after 16 pints.

The daughter now thinks that you go to university to catch sexually transmitted diseases. "And you say you want me to do a degree!" she shrieks. Next time I will leave her to do her hair. It looks much better than Russell Brand's, even though he probably spends more time grooming his than the daughter does hers. If only he paid the same attention to his material.

Brand's new show, Ponderland (Channel 4, Thursday 10.35pm), was deemed to contain "adult humour", a description that stretched the meaning of both terms. The programme raised a smile because of archive film showing eccentrics doing barmy things such as cuddling lions or conversing with cats. Brand assumed the audience couldn't see what was amusing without his help. This was a mistake.

The most disturbing clip was of Sarah, who had an affair with her dog Miles, much to the horror of her husband, who really wasn't that bad looking - better than Miles at any rate. Another clip showed that Sarah had tired of Miles, perhaps because John had him castrated.

She had transferred her affections to Sandy, a young pony who, she smiled, had a lot of growing up to do before they could have a relationship. John, it seemed, had disappeared, having finally got the message: "Four legs good, two legs bad." Though I don't think that's quite what Orwell meant when he penned those words.

Sarah is an American. Perhaps Stephen Fry will bump into her. He seems to bump into everyone else in his series Stephen Fry in America (BBC Two, Saturday 7.15pm). A hobo described how he bounced someone off a wall for disrespecting his woman, a creature whom he tenderly referred to as "the bitch from hell", while Morgan Freeman explained why the Mississippi was a delta. It is always a pleasure to see Fry realise there's something he doesn't know.

"Would you like to see Stephen Fry?" I asked the daughter. "Fry what?" she snaps. And switched her hairdryer back on without waiting for an answer. It's hard to dislike Fry, but I do my best. He drove through the southern states in a London cab, stopping for no one. Fry told us about the blues, the Hmong people, Chicago and the weather. But no matter what he said about America, it always seemed to be about Fry.

As if we haven't had enough of him on Saturday night, he turns up again on Sunday evening. Last week at that time we had the first instalment of Little Dorrit (BBC One), but now it seems we are to be kept on short rations.

The acting is uniformly good, but Alun Armstrong as Flintwich, Eddie Marsan as Mr Pancks and Ruth Jones as Flora Finching capture the deep truth of Dickens, namely that his characters' eccentricities are the fitful expression of how deeply they are damaged. The design is striking. A spiral staircase in the Circumlocution Office symbolises the despair of going round in circles when dealing with officialdom.

Why, though, are the characters so clean? This is Dickens' London, yet not a speck of dirt is to be seen. But given that there is so much elsewhere on the box, I don't suppose I should complain. The daughter, whose spiked hair is a public hazard, laughs at John Chivery's awkwardness with Amy Dorrit. A ray of hope.

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