In this crowded media space, it has never been more important to have a distinct brand identity. BBC One, for example, has established itself as broad and mainstream. ITV is where you go to watch the Harry Potter films for the billionth time. And then you’ve got Channel 4: the channel that spies on children.
How the Other Kids Live is the latest instalment of a grand Channel 4 tradition: following kids around with cameras to see what they’re really like, the unsavoury little scamps. After warming us up with The Secret Life of Four-Year-Olds and The Secret Life of Five-Year-Olds – shows where we simply watched kids play unattended – How the Other Kids Live nudges the formula forward by taking kids from different points on the social spectrum and forcing them to interact.
So it’s Come Dine With Me, except without the food or the scoring or the aggressively sarcastic helium voiceover. In episode one we meet a nervous Catholic boy (first seen making crucifixes out of Lego), a Muslim girl whose parents moved to the UK from Nigeria a decade ago and two privately educated twins, one of whom has Down’s syndrome. Throughout the episode they each host a playdate for the others, and we get to see which of them is the most awful.
Except we don’t. Because, without fail, every child on How the Other Kids Live is great. And, listen, I’m a parent; I know how disappointing that is. My entire life is built around the notion of judging other children. The only reason I take my kids to soft play is because I enjoy seeking out children having tantrums and warming myself with the knowledge that my children aren’t quite as bad as that. Because that’s all I have. That’s all I have left. I’m a ruined man.
That was my mindset entering into How the Other Kids Live. I wanted to see every bad parental decision reflected in the eyes of their offspring. I wanted to see bigotry and selfishness writ large across my screen. But that didn’t happen, because that’s not what children are like. Instead, at every single playdate, the kids immediately become best friends with each other, crawling over furniture and flossing like their lives depend on it.
True, there are moments of potential hostility – the Catholic boy has the most trouble accepting things that aren’t instantly familiar – but they fall away within seconds. Take the exchange from the middle of the episode, where he confronts the Muslim girl about their differing beliefs. “Do you believe in God?” he asks. “Yeah,” she replies. There’s a beat, he says “Oh”, and that’s that. Peace in our time, because they were both concentrating on their commonalities over their differences.
Unless the other two episodes descend into unexpected aggression, that’s what How the Other Kids Live is. It’s a mundane story about lots of kids generally getting along and, as such, it’s exactly the tonic we all need. The whole thing is a cavalcade of unforced pleasantness, where problems are worked out eloquently and patiently. It’s like taking a warm bath. In fact, I’m slightly worried that if the rest of the series carries on in this vein, I’ll end up lobbying for a bunch of eight-year-olds to go and fix Brexit for us.