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Nudity on TV: the naughty and the not so nice

The woman says, "This blows other reality TV out of the water."

Does it ever. Because the people on it are naked. Nekked as a jaybird, to be frank. The woman in question, a tall drink of water named Kellie, has undressed and tossed everything, including her underwear, into a jeep somewhere in Africa. Fair warning though, for anyone keen to get an eyeful of the comely Kellie naked as the day she was born – a good deal her body is covered with some blurry effect added later.

We're talking Naked and Afraid (Sunday, Discovery, 9 p.m.) here and nudity is our theme today.

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See, there's nudity that makes viewers go, "Ooh, that's nice!" And there's nudity that makes people gasp, "Oh for the love of God, cover that up!" Sometimes, of course, nudity is the while point of sticking with a TV show.

That's not the case with Naked and Afraid, which caused a mild fuss when it aired in the U.S. earlier this year. Now it's here, connoisseurs of nudity take note. I know there are some out there because you asked me to find out when it would air here. As a result, I suspect the good people at Discovery Canada think I'm a bit odd. I asked about it a few months back and then when I saw it listed, I asked to see it. Possibly they think there has been a dearth of nudity in my existence so far and I'm looking for a thrill.

Not so. And no thrills can be unearthed on Naked and Afraid. Even though Kellie is not the only one involved. There is also a man! And he's nekked too. He's EJ, a fortysomething ex-Army guy who is proud of his strapping body and anxious to show it to us. He does, and the unmentionable part is well-blurred. Later, mind you, we can observe EJ scratching his posterior with a stick. "Ick!" you can say, as I did.

Anyway, EJ and Kellie roam a plain in Africa with no clothes on. "Here I am out in the middle of Africa with a woman I don't even know, and we're both naked," EJ observes with an uncanny ability to state the obvious. Then he says, "Let's get some firewood," which rather gives the impression that EJ isn't that interested in a naked woman. Firewood is his thing and if there's a stick in there to scratch his rear-end, he's happy.

The series is an abomination, but a fascinating one, in a way. Meant to titillate, it would appear that thoughts about sexualizing the nudity or adding an edge of eroticism, stopped at the premise. Once the show got under way, it just sank into dreariness. It appears the producers realized there was no way to turn the saga of EJ and Kellie making tree bark into shoes into something sexy. And they are right – there isn't.

The White Queen (Friday, Super Channel, 9 p.m.) also involves nudity but of the much more interesting sort – the sort that is a reason for watching. The series, based on the popular books by Philippa Gregory, is beyond silly.

As I noted when writing from L.A. in July, the series has been called "a more female-centric Game of Thrones" or, more colloquially, "Game of Thrones for girls." And it is no such thing. Set in England in 1464, during the Wars of the Roses, which involved various families fighting each other while claiming the throne of England, it's about the real Elizabeth Woodville (Rebecca Ferguson), from the white rose side of the war, who became queen after marrying Edward IV (Max Irons) from the red side of things.

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Almost from the instant they meet, they do get it on. And their clothes off. Mind you, for people of 1464 they both look well fit. (As Sacha Baron Cohen's Ali G character used to say about Posh Spice.) Remarkable toned, smooth-skinned and nicely coiffed. This is only part of the absurdity. As reviewers in Britain noted when it aired on the BBC, the locations and background look startlingly contemporary. Look closely and you can see eavestroughs that appear to have come directly from Home Depot last week.

And then there's the witchcraft and other magical hokum which enables the White Queen and her mom (the excellent Janet McTeer) to manipulate the King and the court. They're related to The River Queen, or some such nonsense.

This is all very disappointing for readers of Philippa Gregory who deserve better. Still, there is the nudity. It's the reason to keep watching. Rebecca Ferguson and Max Irons are fetching people and prone to disrobing at regular intervals. You can admire them and speculate that their buff bods of 1464 are indeed the result of some witchcraft.

Here's the capper – the version seen here (it was made for the Starz channel in the U.S.) contains more nudity than was seen on the BBC version. Lucky us. It's giddily silly TV but the nudity will have you all, "Ooh, that's nice."

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About the Author
Television critic

John Doyle is The Globe and Mail's television critic. His column appears in the Review section Monday to Thursday and on Saturday. He has been the paper's critic since 2000. More

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