Pity the poor shnook who buys a television set expecting to see the world. The only time one sees much of other lands is when crises break out in them. Public TV is an exception with its "World" documentaries and the fact that it inundates its audience with more marginalia about the British Empire than anyone needs to know.
But tonight on PBS, winds blow exotic and refreshing with "The Best of Brazilian Television," a 90-minute sampler of programs from Brazil's Rede Globo network, at 10 on Channel 26. This look at another culture through its television is by turns revealing, disarming, enticing and sumptuous. I loved every other minute of it.
It would be wrong to accept the show's portrait of Brazil as comprehensive.
There are no mentions of the country's political troubles or current regime. The travelogue reflex so apparent throughout just might have something to do with the fact that the Brazilian Tourism Authority contributed funds to help publicize the show.
The innocuousness is hardly disruptive, however, and the range of programming represented is impressive. The show is punctuated with breathtaking, transporting views of Rio de Janeiro and other Brazilian locales, and the guide for the tour is Candice Bergen, whose friendly, ingratiating breeziness is effortlessly charismatic and totally endearing.
What do Brazilians watch? "Kojak" and "Charlie's Angels" dubbed into Portuguese, among other things, but also many Brazilian-produced programs; comedy ranging from satire to slapstick, "Telenovellas" dripping with soap, musical-variety shows, documentaries, soccer games.
In addition, since they are among the most beautifully completed peoples on the planet Earth and since they live in one of the most photogenic of all regions, they watch a lot of themselves and their country. The program begins, in fact, with inspiring views of well-filled bikinis on a white-sand beach and a seaside performance by a riotously voluptuous songstress.
This being public television, however, we are never more than a Frisbee's throw from ineptitude segments that should be long are too short and segments that should be short are too long. A docu-drama about a feminist awakening, in which a wife talks about "my needs" and has a slugfest with her piggy husband, goes on far too long, while musical numbers are sometimes cropped midway through the first chorus.
The program appears to have been edited with a Cuisinart.
This detracts from but doesn't destroy the smorgasbord. Perhaps the most striking thing the Brazilian programs have in common is a brisk, keen visual sensibility. Every graphic artist and art director in town ought to catch the show just to see how bright and classy TV can look. Brazilians are much splashier and more purposeful in their use of color, the credits for shows like "Fantastico" and "Planet of Humans" are brilliantly done.
The program is scheduled to conclude with brief live coverage of this year's Carnaval by satellite from Rio.
As a sampler and an invitation, "The Best of Brazilian Television" bursts with delights. Obviously, a much more thorough examination is in order -- perhaps by one of our leading television critics. By sheerest coincidence I find that my schedule is completely free for the next five years, so hang on, Candice!