TV blog: Child Genius

Benjie Goodhart / 11 August 2017

A new series of Child Genius is remarkable and charming, says our TV critic. Plus, the best of the rest of the week on TV.

Child Genius, Monday 14th August, 8pm, Channel 4

This is, I think, series four of Child Genius (I struggle with numbers higher than two, which may be why I’ve never been invited on to the programme. That, and the fact that I’m 44. Or am I 64? See what I mean?) If you’ve never seen it, it’s really rather extraordinary, and I would highly recommend it. Set aside your week, though, it’s on for the next four nights at 8pm. I think.

It’s partly a straightforward kiddie-quiz show, like University Challenge for the Under-13s (you can virtually guarantee some of these mini-boffins will show up in front of Paxo in eight years’ time, still sporting the same haircuts, and probably in bow ties, answering unfathomable questions about nuclear physics, or the linguistic patterns in Beowulf.)

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But it’s also partly an anthropological study into extraordinary and gifted children. We visit their homes. We see what makes them tick. We meet the parents, some of whom make tiger mums look like pussycats, waking their kids early each day to do advanced trigonometry before the sun has risen. Other parents, though, are entirely bemused and baffled by their children, who have been deposited, as fully-formed geniuses, slap bang in the middle of a normal family.

Rahul, aged 12, is absurdly clever. He could probably build the Large Hadron Collider in a week for a school project. His dad, who’s definitely at the pushier end of the scale, boasts about his son’s IQ of 162, which apparently makes him “as clever as Stephen Hawkins.” Presumably clever enough, then, to correct his dad. It’s Hawking (sorry, pet hate). Rahul meets another child at the competition, and begins to make friends. “What’s your favourite language?” is his opening gambit. In any normal scenario, a typical 12-year-old’s response would be “swearing.” Here, it is “German.” “Oh, mine’s Latin,” says Rahul. Of course it is.

Olivia (12) and Fabio (9) also have a pushy mother, who is surprisingly vocal in her desire for Fabio to defeat Olivia. Mind you, Olivia is good at everything. She revises for the show while nonchalantly playing keepie-uppie with a football. She has played for Arsenal juniors. She has medals in just about everything. She’ll probably win the Formula One World Title next season. And Masterchef.

Then there’s sweet Oscar, who begged his decidedly unpushy parents to let him apply for the show. And Maddison, who could not be described as your average kid: “I love maths more than sweets, chocolate, or watching TV. I love maths more than anything.” I’m not even sure Stephen Hawkins loves maths that much. Hawking. Dammit.

Anyway, the show is both remarkable and charming, and despite a degree of precociousness, you cannot fail to fall for the kids involved. They are all very sweet, scrupulously polite, and entirely supportive of each other, and are generally far more rational than their parents. But beware – if you feel yourself getting too emotionally involved – there’s a gruelling tiebreak at the end of episode one.

The Big Family Cooking Showdown, Tuesday 15th August, 8pm, BBC Two

This show and Celebrity Masterchef start on consecutive nights on the BBC. One is a competitive cookery show, shown over twelve episodes, featuring a range of different culinary challenges in different locations, and fronted by a cheerful pair, one of whom knows much more about cookery than their fellow presenter. And so is the other.

The unique selling point of The Big Family Cooking Showdown is (as the sharper among you may have already twigged) that it involves families cooking together. Each week, two families will go head-to-head over three rounds, eagerly cheered on by presenters Nadiya Hussain and Zoe Ball. At the end, judges Giorgio Locatelli and the redoubtable Rosemary Shrager will cast judgement, and one family goes through to the next round, while the other prepares for a long passive-aggressive car journey home, filled with recrimination because someone burned the shortcrust pastry, and someone else left lumps in the custard.

Tonight, the families competing are the Marks family from West London, and the Charleses from Bridlington. The star of the show is Torun Marks, an 86-year-old woman who’s been married four times, and currently has a couple of boyfriends on the go.

Round one involves making a family Sunday lunch for under £10. Easy. Two microwavable Jalfrezis from Sainsbury’s, pierce film lid, wait for the ‘ping’, Bob’s your uncle. Except apparently that’s not good enough. The Charles family are doing fennel and lemon risotto, with parmesan crisps, tempura fennel fritters, and a chargrilled vegetable salad. I’m still going for the Jalfrezis, by the way. 

Anyway, it all skips along at a fair old lick, and the standard of cooking, at least in episode one, is far from unimpressive. It’s not packed with surprises – you’ve seen it all before, it’s a cooking competition. Nobody takes their clothes off, or gets divorced, or stabs someone in the eye with a carving fork. It’s full of dramatic music, shouts of “fifteen minutes left” and the occasional, unforgivable use of goats’ cheese (which would result in instant disqualification in my book). But there are far worse ways of spending an hour, unless you hate food, and families, and Nadiya Hussain, in which case you’re clearly a monster.

The best… and the rest

Monday 14th August

Britain’s Relationship Secrets with Anne Robinson, 9pm, BBC One: Five couples lift the lid on their lives together, and reveal their own secrets to a successful marriage and a contented and harmonious relationship.

Dangerous Borders: A Journey Across India and Pakistan, 9pm, BBC Two: 70 years after partition, this documentary looks at the tense border, and the people who live along it.

easyJet: Inside the Cockpit, 9pm, ITV: Meet the men and women who may well be flying you off on your next holiday.

Wednesday 16th August

Celebrity Masterchef 1/12, 8pm, BBC One: The celebrity competitive cookery show returns, as ever helmed by Gregg and John. This week, the celebs at the hotplate are Angellica Bell, Stephen Hendry, Julia Somerville, Jim Moir (aka Vic Reeves) and Henri Leconte (expect numerous ‘service’ jokes). Continues tomorrow.

No More Boys and Girls: Can Our Kids Go Gender Free? 9pm, BBC Two: How much of our personalities are shaped by societal expectations based on our gender? In this film, a primary school class receives gender-neutral treatment to find out the answers.

Thursday 17th August

The Brighton Police, 9pm, ITV: Two-part documentary following the officers who police Brighton. As a Brighton resident, I’ll be tuning in, hoping to see my friends get arrested, and very eager not to see my children (who, to be fair, are unlikely to end up in the cells aged under ten).

Taxi of Mum and Dad, 9pm, Channel 4: The joys and challenges of parenting teens are writ large in this charming film following events in a number of family cars that have been rigged up with multiple cameras, as weary parents drive their expectant adolescents from pillar to post.

How to Make Your Marriage Work, 10pm, Channel 4: Five couples lift the lid on their lives together, and reveal their own secrets to a successful marriage and a contented and harmonious relationship. Anyone here getting a sense of déjà vu? 

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