Genius by Stephen Hawking

TV review by
Emily Ashby, Common Sense Media
Genius by Stephen Hawking TV Poster Image
Volunteers test theory that brilliance lies in everyone.

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Educational Value

The show's experiments and demonstrations are excellent visual aids for very complicated scientific concepts. Hawking and other experts interject with explanations throughout the show, and the subjects draw conclusions in laypersons' terms, making the information easily understood. He also explains how the greatest scientific minds were inspired to their theories.

Positive Messages

Viewers see the participants work together to understand the challenges they're given and to complete them. Experts weigh in on complex topics such as how time and space are related and what a black hole is, and the volunteers tie that knowledge to reach a conclusion from their experiment. Strong themes of curiosity and perseverance.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The subjects seem eager to learn and to apply their knowledge to the questions they're posed. They're smart, they think well on their feet, and they listen to each other's ideas with respect. Hawking is an inspiration in himself, refusing to allow his physical condition to limit him.

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What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Genius by Stephen Hawking is a six-part educational series that simplifies sweeping scientific concepts into experiments and demonstrations done by teams of volunteers. The subjects work in trios to understand challenges they're given (using three two-digit numbers to find the location of a party in New York City, for instance) and figure out how to complete them, then draw a conclusion that relates to the episode's scientific theme. The educational potential is huge, and even tweens and teens with an interest in science will be intrigued by the illustrations of complex topics such as the origin of the universe. Hawking, who has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, does most of the narration and appears on-screen a lot, so kids may have questions about his condition and appearance if they watch.

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What's the story?

GENIUS BY STEPHEN HAWKING presents volunteers with experiments that challenge them to think like the world's greatest scientific minds. Narrated by Stephen Hawking and featuring experts in numerous fields of scientific study, the six-part series tackles such topics as time travel, extraterrestrial life, and the origin of the universe. In each case, three volunteers must work together to comprehend what role the experiments have in illustrating complex scientific concepts and then use them to reach a conclusion about the conceivability of these gargantuan mysteries of the universe.

Is it any good?

This intriguing series does an excellent job condensing intricate concepts into manageable demonstrations, even if the volunteers' "average Joe" status is suspect. These trios make some pretty impressive leaps of comprehension between driving backward and forward past the same spot in a DeLorean and the improbability of traveling back through time, for instance, and their dialogue is almost certainly scripted to some degree. That said, they serve their purpose as guinea pigs, and their involvement makes it much easier for laypersons to grasp the likes of the theory of relativity, even if Hawking's assertion that every person can be a genius (like him) is still up for debate.

What's unusual about Genius is that not only must the participants complete the experiments and draw conclusions from them, but they're given little direction (that we can see) in doing so. It gives the process a lot of authenticity and is a great reminder of the role trial and error play in learning, especially for tweens and teens who watch. With intriguing content and a lot of educational potential, this series is a great pick for families.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the scientific process. Do experiments like the ones in Genius by Stephen Hawking always yield a concrete result on the first try? Why is it important to learn from our failures as well as from our successes? Where would we be if those before us hadn't done so?

  • Are your kids interested in science? What areas are of particular interest to them? When and where can you get hands-on with concepts related to this topic? Does Hawking inspire you?

  • Hawking posits that anyone can be a genius and uses this series to try to prove it. Do you agree? How do you think you would have done in the subjects' shoes? What are the areas of your particular "genius"? How do we define a genius, and is it a fair assessment?

  • Families can also talk about perseverance and curiosity. How has Hawking exemplified these character strengths in his life and career?

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