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TELEVISION REVIEWS

Their idea of a good time is grossing you out

Top: Dr. Mike Leahy, a virologist and self-labeled “adventure junkie,’’ seeks out creatures that cause human discomfort or worse, on the Travel Channel’s “Bite Me With Dr. Mike.’’ Below: A CGI bedbug on Animal Planet’s “Monsters Inside Me.’’ Top: Dr. Mike Leahy, a virologist and self-labeled “adventure junkie,’’ seeks out creatures that cause human discomfort or worse, on the Travel Channel’s “Bite Me With Dr. Mike.’’ Below: A CGI bedbug on Animal Planet’s “Monsters Inside Me.’’ (Eric Mccandless/Travel Channel (Top); Animal Planet)
By Matthew Gilbert
Globe Staff / July 1, 2009
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They are microscopic creatures with translucent exoskeletons. Invisible to the naked eye, they find their way inside your body, they multiply, they excrete. Sometimes, they grow into long, viscous, calamari-like worms, other times they simply feed on your flesh and leave gaping, fetid, canyon-like wounds. They are parasites, and, frankly, they are repulsive.

But some TV viewers do so like to be grossed out, to get up close and personal with scabies and larvae and mites, oh my. And two new series - Animal Planet’s “Monsters Inside Me’’ and Travel Channel’s “Bite Me With Dr. Mike’’ - have been created especially for those hardy souls, who probably also love getting petrified and disgusted at gruesome horror flicks. For me, the images on “Bite Me With Dr. Mike’’ and “Monsters Inside Me’’ are the stuff of insomniacal hallucinations and paranoid fantasies, and definitely to be avoided.

Like TV’s other science shows, these series are microscope porn. More than a minute or two doesn’t pass without focusing in on some grotesque, minuscule savage either swimming in a slide or re-created through sophisticated graphics. The “CSI’’ shows dabble in this genre, as does “House,’’ when the week’s medical case involves microorganisms. But both “Monsters Inside Me’’ and “Bite Me With Dr. Mike’’ spend a significant part of each hour obsessing over teensy killers, sharing stories about how they live off human hosts, can lay dormant for decades, and will rob you of your eyesight, your brains, and, oh yeah, your life.

The lighter show is “Bite Me With Dr. Mike,’’ on Tuesdays at 10, as virologist and self-labeled “adventure junkie’’ Dr. Mike Leahy travels the world seeking out vile little creatures, ingesting them, and waiting for them to wreak havoc. This week, Dr. Mike swims in the germ-infested Ganges and eats unwashed vegetables in India, hoping against hope for roundworms. Finally, at the end of the hour, after bringing a stool sample to a laboratory and getting diagnosed with giardia, he poops out the episode’s denouement. I won’t spoil the surprise.

Of course, in a note at the end of each episode, we’re told that some scenes are staged or re-enacted, so “Bite Me’’ is probably heightening matters to some extent. But Dr. Mike is so jovial and carefree, he’s hard to resist, pulling off his shirt at a moment’s notice to experiment with the healing powers of leeches. With his British accent adding a jaunty meter to everything he says, he brings comic liveliness to lines such as, “Their eggs are expelled in our feces, and you get reinfested when infested excrement finds its way into your mouth.’’ Emphases not added.

“Monsters Inside Me,’’ which premieres tonight at 9, tries to be more chilling and dramatic, although the voice-over occasionally risks camp with its “Reefer Madness’’ sternness. While “Bite Me’’ is all about taking risks and exploring other cultures, “Monsters Inside Me’’ plays more like a warning film about the world’s hidden health hazards and how to avoid them.

The show is broken into segments, each of which profiles a person who was somehow infected with an evil parasite. First, a toddler named Garrett, whose parents tearfully describe the long journey of diagnosis. There’s nothing like watching a child losing his eyesight, along with other body functions, as well as watching a scientist stick a glove up a raccoon’s rectum, to keep you riveted.

Next up, a Vietnam veteran who was treated for malaria upon his return to the US in 1967, but who is now suffering from scrotal swelling and a thick gold fluid that seeps out of the pores of his swollen legs. It’s horrible, of course, although the narration veers into the unintentionally comic: “Tim’s leaking legs are truly disturbing,’’ he notes. “But could this be the start of something far more sinister?’’ Gee, do you think?

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com. For more on TV, visit www.boston.com/ae/tv/blog.

BITE ME WITH DR. MIKE Starring: Dr. Mike Leahy

On: Travel Channel

Time: Tuesdays at 10 p.m.

MONSTERS INSIDE ME On: Animal Planet

Time: Tonight, 9-10

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