Itâs really no wonder that programmes like The X Factor refuse to end. Theyâve mistaken talentâthe very thing that they all claim to be searching forâfor horribly unappealing, though hugely lucrative mediocrity. Theyâre never going to find talent at this rate, not with a panel of judges that are less qualified to judge talent *cough* Amanda Holden *cough cough* than Dr Pepper is to practice medicine. So, I fear, it may never end.
Given televisionâs ridiculously skewed ideas of what talent is supposed to be then, itâs difficult not be somewhat sceptical of Channel 4âs latest search for it. But on the surface, Hidden Talent, presented by Richard Bacon, seems differentâless gut wrenchingly awful perhaps.
It certainly seems less mean-spirited than something like The X Factor. The idea behind the series: to unearth unforeseen skills in seemingly ordinary members of the general public. There are no judges, no televised bullying masquerading as comedy, and the scale of the search is modest. The programmeâs production doesnât feature stomach-churning sweeping shots of Britain or grandiose footage of a godlike Bacon stepping out of a limousine to the over-compressed sounds of LMFAO. Hidden Talent establishes itself as something much less gaudy.
âThis is Maggie,â? Richard explains, in the opening few minutes of the episode. âShe came to a Hidden Talent test day to see if she can be good at something.â?
As it happens, Maggieâs very good at a lot of things. Although, perhaps because TV so frequently suggests that talent is less about hard work and dedication, and far more about dazzling natural ability, she seems sceptical. Having raised her first child at just 16, single mother Maggie somehow managed found time to train to become a nurse. But despite her achievements, she regrets that sheâs never discovered her natural gift.
Based on an aptitude test, the series insists that Maggie try rock climbing, although it soon becomes evident that the activity isnât for everyone. Hairdresser Lilly seems to have a crippling fear of heights, yet sheâs also been sent to do it. She gives it her best shot, but ultimately freezes up with fear. Fortunately, Sports psychologist Jamie McDonald is on hand to pull little self-amused faces and shake his head.
McDonald and the climbing instructor are impressed with Maggie. She seems fearless and is instinctively good under pressure, and so sheâs chosen for a particularly daunting challenge: to climb a 200ft, terrifyingly steep rock face in just 18 weeks. Experienced climbers, we learn, take years before they tackle such overwhelming obstacles. But for the sake of exciting television, Maggie is going to have to give it her best, even though the odds are against her.
It seems like an insane thing to do, which is perhaps why Hidden Talent is so engaging. But what makes episode one worth tuning in for are the people involved. Unlike the contestants on The X Factor, you can sympathise with Maggie on an emotional level. Sheâs a nice person and you want her to succeed. Itâs not essential viewing, but it is a lot of fun.