Last Night's Television: Kidnapped by the Kids, Channel 4
Parent trap wasn't just child's play
Friday 11 December 2009
Fester – oh no, sorry, Lester – Adams is obsessed with work.
Or so says the voiceover on Channel 4's Kidnapped by the Kids. He's part of a growing trend in the UK: children, we're told, are increasingly raised by workaholic parents. So last night, Lester's kids kidnapped him. "If I could wish for anything it would be for my dad to come back here more. I miss him all the time."
All well and good, except that I'm not sure about the premise. Are we really a nation of workaholic parents? Okay, so Lester might be a bit on the obsessed side – he sleeps at work to stop break-ins ("it's nice!") – but most parents just work hard because they have to. Children cost money. Lots of money: especially at this time of year, when the little terrors are running around high on mince pies and advent calendar chocolates, compiling unrealistic lists of extortionately priced gifts to be immediately discarded. Even Lester maintains this motivation at heart: he wants his children to have a better life than he did, he says. "I don't really want my kids going to school in second-hand uniforms like me."
Anyway, dubious premise aside it was actually quite good fun watching eight-year-old Ross and big sister Maddie plan their escapade. "I'm going to have to act as normal as possible in the run-up," whispered a gleeful Maddie. "I keep giggling. He's going to get suspicious!" Ross, meanwhile, prepared a speech in case his dad resisted. When it came to the big day, Ross, Maddie and Mum hid out in the children's play-centre that Lester owns. He had slept there the previous night but when he nipped out in the morning, they skipped school to sneak in. "Do you know why you're here?" they grinned when he got back. "No," came the wary response. He had, apparently, been under the illusion he was filming a documentary on small businesses. "We've taken the day off school to kidnap you so you can spend more time with us! You're not going into work for a long time."
Uh-oh, cue major on-screen bust-up. Or maybe not. Instead of freaking out – which wouldn't be a wholly unreasonable response given the circumstances – Lester welled up, tears rolling down his cheeks. He seemed particularly moved when Ross gives his absurd little hostage-taking speech. "I wish you were more like our friends' dads," he recited. "I want to fly kites more. So we're taking you to Wales." Things started to run rather less smoothly once they got there. The rule was that the children were in charge, which starts to grate fairly early on. Workaholic or no – being bossed around by a couple of pre-teens isn't most people's idea of fun. On arriving home, Lester was forced to go to school with his kids. He seemed all right at Maddie's secondary school, but when it came to accompanying Ross, he suddenly became much more interested in discovering how many of the pupils have visited his play-centre than in getting to know his son.
Still, the experiment was not without its benefits. Lester eventually appeared to grasp the effect that his professional life is having on his children. And, despite the heavy smell of made-for-TV moments that hung around the whole thing, it was all rather moving, perhaps because Ross and Maddie were so very engaging. Maybe parents do spend too little time with their children these days. I just wish that last night hadn't laid the blame quite so squarely at their hard-working feet.
Speaking of blame: E4's had a bit of kicking of late. It's vapid, say the critics. Featherweight TV. And perhaps it is – but then what's so wrong with that? It's entertainment. This was the defence launched by controller Angela Jain in this paper on Monday. And I couldn't agree more. TV's for fun. At any rate, there's a lot more than vapidity to the channel's current teen comedy Misfits.
Things have become considerably more sinister within the group of magically powered community service teens since I last tuned it, though it was just as packed with quirky scenarios and witty one-liners. Poor old Simon's online rapport with "Shygirl18" is little more than a farce; in reality, Shygirl is his probation officer, Sally, who suspects the group of killing her colleague (and boyfriend) Tony. Meanwhile, good boy Curtis has been cheating on his long-term girlfriend with party girl Alisha. He has tried, repeatedly, to break up with the girlfriend but his "superpower" – which rewinds time every time he feels regret – keeps undoing his dirty work for him. Last night, he eventually finished it by forcing her to get angry with him. Without the tears, there was no regret. And it looks like Nathan might have cottoned on to his superpower. After accidentally sleeping with an elderly lady who appeared young in his eyes in episode two, he started hearing babies crying everywhere he went. Dare we speculate it's something to do with eternal youth?
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