Child Genius (4 stars)

Channel 4, Thu 8 Feb, 9pm


Most of us would like to have a few more brain cells than we currently have at our disposal. But who would really want an IQ of 170, putting us into the top 0.002% of the population? And what if we had that mental ability and were around the ten-year-old mark? This documentary introduces us to a bunch of kids who are blessed/cursed with such vast brainpower and to whom we will return in two years time to track their progress.

For now, let’s meet the ten-year-old who can beat his dad at chess while blindfolded; the maths expert who was inducted into the Mensa club before his third birthday; and the precocious lad whose literary skills are matched only by his culinary prowess (though you get the feeling that his kid sister would have preferred a sea of eggy bread rather than the roast Medieval dinner of marinated pigeon that he’s knocked up). Most spooky of all, we have a set of two brothers and two sisters who are a cross between Stepford-like automatons and flowery-frocked Amish recluses for whom the delivery of exam results is a mere formality and an excuse to unleash a frenzy of presents.

Of course, for every test that becomes a breeze, for each philosophical argument that is won, and for all the certificates to be framed, there are downsides aplenty. You can only imagine how much hassle they attract from their more intellectually-challenged peers, while behaviour that would simply be childish larking in others comes across as cocky arrogance. This is a stark and disturbing look into unwanted but inescapable talent.

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