Last Night's TV: Child Genius: Five Years On / Channel 4
Monte Carlo or Bust / ITV1
Whizz-kids who just want to be normal
Friday 29 October 2010
Are these the cleverest boys in Britain?" That was the Daily Mail's headline when Zohaib and Saadia Ahmed received their A-level results. As, both of them: one in maths and one in further maths. Whatever the answer (and to be honest it's probably not yes) their Dad is crossing his fingers for a "No."
He has, he explains, tried to view his children's education as a project. Almost from birth, they have been monitored: videotaped doing puzzles, reading books, and talking to the camera. He wants to prove that genius isn't born but can be grown. Cleverness, he believes, is not innate – it's a matter of training. His sons have been groomed for greatness: extra homework each night, studying in the summer holidays, daytrips to the office for a glimpse of their future.
Unfortunately for him, his two boys – when they eventually have their IQ tested – turn out be very bright indeed. "Superior," according to Joan Freeman, the UK's leading expert in such things (what, I wonder, does this make her? Expertly superior? Superiorly superior?). Of course, what isn't clear is whether their IQ, purportedly a measure of inherent ability, has been affected by all that hot-housing. Mr Ahmed thinks it has and I reckon I'm with him. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Zohaib and Saadia take much less of an interest in all this than their father. Their primary aim is to beat one another. That, and to own a Ferrari, an end they plan to achieve by working as actuaries.
Child Genius has been running since 2005, popping up every couple of years, a sort of 7 Up for clever people. Last night was the Ahmeds first appearance, but elsewhere we got to catch up with those prodigies we met last time. A couple of years ago Aimee – musician, youngest person ever to get into the Royal College of Music – had begun to develop an attitude, yelling at her parents and complaining that they didn't understand her. That process appears to have continued, even if her music has fallen by the wayside. These days she can be found setting her sights on a future as a film director, and telling her mother that she doesn't trust her to hold the camera straight.
It's all a bit odd, really, watching these clever, precocious little people. They're so different from most kids their age; it must, inevitably, be lonely. Peter certainly looked lonely. Home schooled by his Dad, he's still hoping to become world chess champion, though his performance at the recent UK championship saw him placed a so-so 41st. He's not following the national curriculum either, but pottering around the garden learning "animal care" with the help of his pet tortoises. Dante and Michael – two of the programme's original geniuses – have given up on life as prodigies. Their intellects are still there of course, but, as Michael rather poignantly put it, "Part of growing up is going, 'OK, you know, I'm just going to have a boring life in an office.'" Mundane as that reality may be, Michael and Dante looked a lot happier – calmer, more content – than they did last time.
Not long ago, ITV gave us All at Sea, a somewhat mystifying series in which various not very interesting, not very famous "famous people" (and Richard Madeley) got put on a boat – or, rather, divided into groups and put on two boats – and dispatched to sea in order to... well, it never quite became clear. Have a nice time? Go on holiday? Somewhere along the lines, the programme makers had failed to take note of usual television conventions. There was no explanation, no competition, no voting anyone off. It was, simply, a televised pleasure cruise, apropos of nothing.
Monte Carlo or Bust is not dissimilar. Half a dozen celebrities have been sent to France in vintage cars to have what looks like a very nice time. Quite why – why France? Why these celebrities? Why, in fact, the programme? – never becomes clear. And yet it wasn't a bad watch.
In his episode, refreshingly, there's an element of competition (albeit an utterly spurious one). Our three teams have been charged with finding items to represent the "glory, the genius and the guts" of the various French regions through which they are travelling. At the end of each leg, zey are met wiz a très French judge who assesses their efforts, chooses a winner, and awards them model Eiffel towers in ascending size. And then, of course, there's the setting. France is nice to look at. It's pretty. It's quaint. There are food-porn meals and comedy accents. It's not hard to see why our celebrities accepted this offer: a free tootle around the Continent in a vintage car? You'd say yes, too.
So anyway, there it was: Julian Clary and Jodie Kidd, Jack Dee and Adrian Edmondson, Penny Smith and Rory McGrath, racing one another for the honour of the biggest Tour Eiffel. Jack and Adrian were the most fun to watch. Not surprising, really, since they're both comedians. Before long they'd found themselves in the thick of France's most ardent Johnny Halliday fan club, where they picked up a life-sized cardboard cutout to represent the region's genius. "Were it the other way round, would they do this with Cliff Richard?" mused Dee. Probably, agreed Edmondson. Needless to say, they won.
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