"Anatomy of Love" isn't an anatomy lesson at all. It's a show-and-tell about love and marriage from an anthropologist's point of view.
In the four-hour documentary that begins at 8:05 tonight on cable channel TBS, that means we are studied as primates are studied -- or birds, elephants or almost anything else with DNA to pass on to offspring.
Tonight's first two hours are almost academic enough to watch with your children. The only naked body parts shown are arms.
But the second part, which airs tomorrow night at 8:05, covers adultery, breaking up and staying together. Prostitutes, referred to as "sex workers" in this report, are interviewed, as well as married men and women who stray far from the range. The discussion of why they stray gets explicit in some cases.
There are several moments during the series that are a tad obvious, like the news that we mate to ensure the survival of our species. But other moments are more interesting, such as anthropologist Helen Fisher explaining the five parts of what she calls a "pickup." When those five steps are shown being played out in sequence in a singles bar, the program becomes fascinating.
The format features Dr. Fisher, who wrote the "Anatomy of Love" book, sitting in a wing chair giving an anthropologist's spiel for two or three minutes on a particular aspect of falling in love, courtship, monogamy, infidelity and what-have-you. Then, the producers cut to videotape to demonstrate what she's talking about.
During each segment, we also get to hear real-life people discussing their love lives . . . sometimes ad nauseam. There are Japanese, Kenyans and Americans talking about dating, "good sex," "bad sex" and what marriage means to them. It is the Americans who frequently go on and on, often to the point where they seem neurotic, self-absorbed or abnormally afflicted by the need to navel-gaze.
A few might even strike you as downright strange, such as the married woman who created a second identity for herself as she took part in extra-marital relationships.
"Anatomy of Love" doesn't offer bold insights or new ways of thinking about love, sex, marriage, adultery and divorce. And it gets a little predictable and pedantic after a while -- from the wing chair to the tape and back again.
But, with all the glamorizing of sex and romance in television programs, this is a helpful dose of reality. Now, whether anyone wants the real rather than the romanticized version of love on Valentine's Day is another matter altogether.