Last Night's TV: Child Genius Channel 4
The Apprentice BBC2
They've got an answer for everything
Thursday 17 April 2008
It's not always easy to focus on the job in hand when you're reviewing television. Take Child Genius, a Channel 4 series that follows the lives of exceptionally gifted children (or, to be more precise, exceptionally gifted children whose parents didn't tick the "no publicity" box). I know that I should be concentrating on Adam, who spends quality time with Mummy dissecting rats, or Mikhail, who can add 8,192 and 8,192 faster than you can blink, but I keep getting distracted. We were told at one point, for instance, that Peter's father "has given up his job as an artificial-limb painter". And immediately I found myself thinking, "Can't we see a documentary about that? And can it really be true that it's a big sacrifice for Peter Sr to have stepped off the limb-painting ladder? How high can you go in the field of prosthetic aesthetics?" And when we were shown the MP Michael Mates, harrumphing indignantly about a letter that Peter Jr, had written to him about his problems with the local council, I found myself wondering what tortuous calculations of political advantage he'd gone through to conclude that he could safely insult a constituent on camera. Can't be rude about small children, he would have thought, but on the other hand, viewers may think he's a clever dick... so perhaps I'll get away with it.
Actually, Peter – once you peel off the layers of acquired bumptiousness – seems to be quite a nice little boy, and certainly better than you might expect of a child who has to carry the weight of an entire family's ambitions. He didn't throw a tantrum when his anticipated triumph at a European chess championship failed to materialise (he came 67th out of 91, which was around 66 places lower than he'd been aiming for). He just went very quiet and looked as if he needed a hug. Which his father, still doing post-match analysis on the last game, conspicuously failed to give him. That's another distraction. What you're interested in here isn't the children, most of whose achievements are dully quantifiable. It's the parents, many of whom insist on the fact that they wouldn't dream of pushing their children but don't then explain who it was exactly who put in the application papers for Mensa.
It can be a hard world too. Mikhail used to enjoy the title of youngest- ever Mensa member but has recently been bumped by Georgia, who joined before she reached her third birthday, and will presumably now start scooping the appearances on Oprah and Countdown. Georgia's mother is so devoted to her that she thinks her aura appears on family snapshots, and though parental adoration is hardly the worst crime in the world, you sense that it might be toxic when insufficiently diluted. When Mikhael was first tested, his precocious maths abilities weren't matched by equivalent verbal skills, so his parents immediately put him on a remedial coaching programme and arranged a fund-raising spellathon so that he could show off his new skills in front of the local newsmen. Don't know how it is with these people who aren't pushing, but the non-pushees still seem to end up at the front in all the pictures.
In The Apprentice this week, Simon, the Tiggerish ex-Army type, was also making claims to above- average intelligence. "I've got an IQ of 170, so I consider myself to be pretty clever... The only thing is people don't like a smart arse... I might have to bite my tongue in the early parts of this competition not to overawe them." His strategy certainly appears to be working with Claire. "I compare him to a toddler," she said. "He's trying to run and he's very enthusiastic and we're giving him the reins to stay up." Or, possibly, if Claire gets her way, to get "accidentally" tangled round his neck and choke him to death. Simon put himself forward to lead a task based on selling portrait photographs. "My best friend is a photographer," he said, outlining his credentials. "I know about shutter speeds; I know about setting up a tripod and a camera." Margaret, taking notes in the background, rolled her eyes upwards in a most speaking manner.
Helene ("I'm a businesswoman with a lot of balls") led the other team and devoted most of her managerial energies to humiliating Lucinda, who confessed her complete technical incompetence and was promptly put in charge of IT. Helene gave herself the job of "overseeing the back office", which turned out to be a euphemism for eating chocolate bars and hectoring Lucinda when things began to go wrong. The pleasures of The Apprentice, I now realise, are essentially religious. Recording angels take down every detail and when all are finally called to account, before a wrathful deity with a stubbly grey beard, we have a fair expectation that the righteous will be saved and the wrongdoers cast down unto perdition. Doesn't work every time, but then "Surallen" is no more infallible than any other god.
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