‘Horizon: 10 Things You Need to Know About the Future,” read the listings. “It’s two, maximum,” I thought. “1. Hell. 2. Handcart.”
It was an oddly timed commission, coming during a period in which people are, of grim necessity, taking things one day at a time and just hoping that they get to bed before the span’s allotted grains of hope run out. Maybe it was a public service production, aimed simply at stopping us collectively slipping permanently into the morass of despair, but whatever its intentions – and despite its opening promise that the list was distilled from many and trusted sources – Horizon: 10 Things You Need to Know About the Future (BBC2) was maddeningly thin stuff.
Of course, in an hour-long programme you are not going to cover 10 subjects in depth, especially when you also have to top and tail it with mandatory footage of Arthur C Clarke making brilliantly prescient predictions (“I am perfectly serious when I say that we will one day be able to be in instant contact with our friends anywhere on Earth … able to conduct business from Tahiti or Bali just as well as we can in London”) and some batshit ones (“We will solve the servant problem with monkeys!”). But everything in Horizon’s list was treated so superficially that it barely managed to whet the appetite for more information. What should have been 10 little nuggets of factual and inspirational gold were more often confusing than not. Naked mole rats have something to do with increasing life expectancy. T-cells from donors may be retrofitted by geneticists to cure cancer. A Norwegian man flying a little kite-drone-plane thing on a string attached to a generator may or may not have contributed mightily to the search for renewable energy sources. And flying cars, long-promised by science fiction writers and all the best cartoons, might still happen, because someone stood in a room in which more drone-like things moved about in a pre-programmed dance that was very pretty but didn’t look as if it would be much help extracting you from a three-mile tailback on the M25.
It was all quite frustrating, except for the items about weather, climate change and the environment, which were filled with graphs showing good things plummeting and bad things spiking. We also saw the globe turning red over 50 years, when you looked at temperature, and blue when you looked at rising sea levels, and Dr Adam Rutherford trying to contain his fury at humanity’s fundamental and incessant stupidity.
Five out of 10 for the programme. Nought out of 10 for us. Must both try harder.
There’s no point being angry or frustrated by Vlogglebox (E4). It is what it is. Gogglebox for online content. Horizon proved we’re all doomed – we might as well enjoy what’s left of our brief and inglorious time on a slowly boiling Earth by watching people watching other people squeeze their suppurating spots or deliver the next K-pop hit, or Ed Sheeran fit 55 Maltesers in his mouth.
As ever, the watchers were the best bit. Teenagers Tom, Billy and Riley, who were baffled by a mention of Ovaltine. Welsh BFFs Janine, Delyth and Gabby methodically eating cheese and crackers as spot-man’s pus hit the screen, and deciding whether he would be fit when zitless. Northerner Sophie watching post-election coverage and commenting gleefully that “May looks like she’s lost a fiver and found a quid and Corbyn looks like he’s lost a quid and found a fiver!”. And it’s a toss-up as to which of the intergenerational pairings walks off with the Unforced Entertainment crown; Joseph and his magnificent – Italian? – grandma Gilda, who doesn’t like bad language (“Why swear!”), rude questions (“Issa disgusting!”) or home videos (“Alla de family iss crazy, Joseph!”), or Vicky and her mum Beatrice, who turns an advert in which a man pours a potential girlfriend a coffee out of his phone into a valuable teaching moment. “You shouldn’t take a coffee from a random man in the street! This is stupidness!”
I would query the inclusion of online material from Brad Holmes, who posts videos of himself asking his girlfriend trivia questions she can’t answer under the heading, “Britain’s stupidest female”, and “pranks” her by doing things like rubbing chilli on her tampons and cutting her hair off. Whether faked or not (opinion is divided), it is nasty stuff. The end of the world may be on its way, but Brad just makes you want it to come faster.