Just another day at the orifice on Embarrassing Bodies

The <i>Embarrassing Bodies</i> doctors: James Russell, Priya Manickavasagar, Christian Jessen and Pixie McKenna.
The Embarrassing Bodies doctors: James Russell, Priya Manickavasagar, Christian Jessen and Pixie McKenna.
At the <i>Embarrassing Bodies</i> clinic, Amy seeks advice about an extensive scar.

At the Embarrassing Bodies clinic, Amy seeks advice about an extensive scar.

Would you flash your fractured penis or your prolapsed vagina on international television?

Well, thousands of Britons do, and Australians are enjoying it in their hundreds of thousands. Welcome to the world of Embarrassing Bodies.

It's an oddly addictive hour of television, featuring all manner of strangely-accented Brits confessing and showing all manner of odd maladies that can afflict the common person.

It's hard to say what exactly is the most gripping element of this car-crash television, which is often best viewed with hands up to the face and fingers spread. As each episode concludes, the thought comes: "Surely it can't get any worse."

But it does. The bloody operations, the skin conditions, the genitalia viewed in close-up and the mangled bodies pile up.

At first glance, many of the complaints appear trivial.

"My labia's too large," complained one 23-year-old. Why do we care? Because "it affects me every single day, and every day I feel more bad about myself".

The complaint is not for aesthetic reasons but for comfort; the labia has swollen so far that it rubs her underwear and she dreams about cutting it off.

Another woman who appears only to have the mild problem of persistent acne is instead diagnosed with the rarer cystic acne, which affects her to the point where there is not a day where she does not feel pain.

It's the human side to the stories, and the triumph over the adversity, that has plagued many of the patients, often for years at a time, which endears the show to viewers.

One can't ignore the gross-out attraction to the show, and, indeed, there are many cases or examples when the viewer doesn't feel so bad for giggling.

Sometimes the giggles are triggered simply by the straightforward way in which the aggrieved explains their problem.

"Every time I poo, my bottom bleeds," said one woman boldly.

Another young woman sheepishly admitted that her toe had been infected "for about a year". The cause? An ingrown toenail.

Behind the show's voyeurism, there is a message – that the doctor isn't scary.

Its narrator and its doctors, the stars Christian Jessen, Pixie McKenna and Dawn Harper, each have a distinct way about them, but the overall tone is educational. The science and facts behind each condition is explained – how it's caused and how common, or uncommon, it is.

As the number of series stacks up, a new doctor has been added to examine gungy and mangy British teeth - Dr James Russell. (Admittedly, this is even too much for your scribe to bear!)

The name of the program partly explains why participants have hitherto failed to have their conditions checked. But one does wonder why some on the show would expose their problems on TV. (The show is believed to pay for surgical treatment for those featured on the program.)

Yet despite its confronting nature, Embarrassing Bodies and its spin-offs – Embarrassing Fat Bodies, Embarrassing Kids' Bodies and Embarrassing Teenage Bodies – maintain their appeal, and, in fact, are particularly attractive to the desired TV-viewer demographics for advertisers.

The show rates particularly well in Melbourne, which suggests that Melburnians are either seeing a lot of themselves in the patients or are just voyeurs.

Nine says last Wednesday's edition, with 974,000 viewers across the five capital markets, won its timeslot for all viewers, and in the advertiser-friendly demographics of people aged 25 to 54, 18 to 49 and 16 to 39 (although the program started 30 minutes late because the Big Brother final ran overtime).

In the fortnight prior, there were just 485,000 viewers, down on the 587,000 the previous week. Just under half (230,000) were in Melbourne, where it performed better than lead-in program Big Fat Gypsy Weddings (208,000 in Melbourne, but 611,000 nationally).

On Monday, the GEM screening reached 201,000 viewers, ranking eighth across the day's multichannel ratings, beating Family Guy (7mate), Criminal Minds (7TWO) and action flick The Expendables (GO!).

But it was down on the previous Monday, when it was the top rating multichannel program with 288,000 viewers - 102,000 of which were in Melbourne.

Nine and its digital channel Gem show three episodes each week and there are countless replays on Foxtel.

Here's to more!

This story Just another day at the orifice on Embarrassing Bodies first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.