JENNIFER GANNON

‘The Ap­pren­tice’ ap­peals to our sin­is­ter joy in see­ing the con­tes­tants hu­mil­i­ated. And there are few more de­serv­ing than this year’s cav­al­cade of cretins

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It’s the13th se­ries of The

Ap­pren­tice and un­like its re­al­ity telly con­tem­po­raries chop­ping and chang­ing their for­mat while des­per­ately try­ing to stay rel­e­vant, ab­so­lutely noth­ing has changed in­side Shug­gsy’s Board­room That Time For­got. It’s a bit like your granny’s “good room” but in­stead of bot­tles of dead red lemon­ade from 1987 and pic­tures of smil­ing grand­kids there are piles of dusty email-phones and dart boards fea­tur­ing Piers Mor­gan’s grotesque minced fea­tures.

Mer­ci­fully, there’s been no sex­ing up of Lord-Sir-Alan-Am­strad-Spursy-Shug­gsy-Sugar, no en­gag­ing with the youth mar­ket or any at­tempt made to con­ceal his ut­ter con­tempt for this whole palaver. His per­ma­nently griz­zled vis­age be­longs to a man who is try­ing to work out that dodgy steak-and-kid­ney pie he had for lunch. The sound of his voice is now a fa­mil­iar whin­ny­ing ex­hale of de­ri­sion. The only joy he barely ex­hibits is when he sneers that he won’t be the one do­ing any of the work. It’s dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand why we’re all still here, apart from our sadis­tic de­sire to see the of­fice so­ciopath suf­fer.

Much like I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!, The Ap­pren­tice is a gameshow that ap­peals to our sin­is­ter joy in see­ing cer­tain in­di­vid­u­als hu­mil­i­ated. But in­stead of cack­ling at Timmy Mal­lett guz­zling down a furry koala scro­tum, the au­di­ence gets to revel in the com­mon­place an­ni­hi­la­tion of nosey Linda from HR or the pa­thet­i­cally power-mad sales rep that stinks of David­off cologne.

The ever-more das­tardly selec­tion of self-as­sured blowhards are care­fully com­piled to stoke our ire. These days, they scarcely need to be prod­ded into mak­ing the most odi­ous of state­ments in their vis­ual CVs, with ev­ery­one at­tempt­ing to outdo each other in their craven cap­i­tal­is­tic ten­den­cies.

Let’s not for­get that this is the en­vi­ron­ment that spawned K*t*e H**k**s. It there­fore would be no sur­prise to even­tu­ally wit­ness some­one pop up in their talk­ing-head seg­ment cov­ered in their fel­low con­tes­tant’s en­trails, us­ing a bashed-in skull as a ven­tril­o­quist’s dummy to quote Mil­ton Fried­man.

Take bray­ing Tory boy El­liott Van Em­den for ex­am­ple, who can barely dis­guise his Dick­en­sian glee, prac­ti­cally bounc­ing on his car seat when de­scrib­ing his job of as­sist­ing land­lords to evict ten­ants. Then there’s cen­tral-cast­ing “ec­cen­tric” El­iz­a­beth McKenna who de­lights in once be­ing known as a scary debt col­lec­tor. They are ei­ther re­morse­less ghouls hewn from day-old Daily Mails, sewn to­gether with swan’s blood and Kil­roy-Silk smarm, or flinty-eyed, soul­less boys-and-girls-done-good whose bones are made of coal-dust and di­a­monique. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

The spec­tre of Brexit

This cav­al­cade of cretins are the first con­tes­tants to take part un­der the spec­tre of Brexit, which is re­ferred to briefly from the out­set (as if in­tro­duc­ing a re­cur­ring vil­lain that will resur­face through­out the se­ries). But Shug­gsy as­sures the as­sem­bled bas­tards that he’ll be the only one choos­ing who will “re­main”.

In fact, The Ap­pren­tice is the most Brexit of TV shows, ex­ist­ing in a vac­uum, a land­scape of fan­tas­ti­cal de­nial. It bears no rel­e­vance to the bona fide busi­ness world of ter­ri­fy­ing trade deals or ping-pong play­ing start-ups. It is a jin­go­is­tic road­show that barks about em­pires and prof­its with the cam­eras twirling around Lon­don land­marks such as the Gherkin and Em­bank­ment. But in re­al­ity, it’s mostly shoddy MDF fit­tings in a windy in­dus­trial es­tate. Ev­ery task may as well see the con­tes­tants run­ning around at­tempt­ing to off­load a job lot of teeny tiny Union Jack flags to un­sus­pect­ing pun­ters. It’s an eco­nomic en­ter­tain­ment show in the same way that Monopoly is a bank­ing board game. This week’s task is a stan­dard

Ap­pren­tice chal­lenge: mak­ing and flog­ging burgers. It’s the

Gen­er­a­tion Game episode, full of pro­duc­tion-line mishaps where some­one will al­ways mis­cal­cu­late the in­gre­di­ents and ev­ery­one even­tu­ally re­alises that they don’t know how much any­thing should ac­tu­ally cost.

There is lots of talk of “best of Bri­tish” pro­duce but the girls’ team (who are sup­pos­edly mak­ing lux­ury burgers) end up plump­ing for some cheap chicken from Hol­land and steak that is pum­melled into a gooey paste by bum­bling florist El­iz­a­beth, who is work­ing out some in­ter-team frus­tra­tions.

Typ­i­cally, in the early episodes, the women tend to smother their out­ward hos­til­ity, and present a united front un­til they reach Mam-at-Christ­mas break­ing point around episode three. But this year’s bunch are bol­shy from the off. Early fave, Bolton con­struc­tion czar Michaela Wain is the most in­ter­est­ing prospect, pos­si­bly be­cause it will later be re­vealed that she’s Heather Mills in a joke-shop glasses and red wig.

The faux-friendly fa­cade of the team cracks when self-pro­claimed “potty” El­iz­a­beth goes head to head with mal­func­tion­ing cy­borg Siob­han Smith, a tor­pid “des­ti­na­tion wed­ding plan­ner”. Siob­han, not quite re­cov­er­ing from an ear­lier maul­ing from Kar­ren Brady for in­sin­u­at­ing that the sub-team should be a bit of win­dow-dress­ing for the Ca­nary Wharf busi­ness bros, trains her laser-beams on her fel­low con­tes­tants.

She loudly dis­misses Mi­randa Hart man­nequin Liz as “faffy” then al­most pulls her arms from her sock­ets while man­han­dling a box of burgers away from her. This seething re­sent­ment is over­looked by sup­posed de­tail-ori­ented project man­ager Sarah Lynn, who cheer­ily matches them up to flip burgers to­gether. It’s a flame-grilled feast that Ap­pren­tice dreams are made of.

Pro­tein-pow­der sheen

Mean­while the boys’ team (which they have chris­tened Vi­tal­ity, like a guar­an­tee on a can of dog food) with their thick necks and pro­tein pow­der sheen, opt for the “healthy” op­tion of buf­falo and turkey burgers. So far, the boys act as a shouty, amor­phous blob like er­rant mem­bers of foot­ball soap

Dream Team mixed with the anony­mous faces from the band Hot Chip. They com­mu­ni­cate in a se­ries of “Ois” and back-slaps with talk of “smash­ing” the girls un­til rogue blob Charles Burns at­tempts to pull rank and his con­stant chip­pi­ness threat­ens to un­ravel the group.

In the end, they’re all to be found al­most weep­ing in butch­ers’ shops be­fore dis­cov­er­ing who faces the fate of slurp­ing their grey-slop tea in the iconic Bridge Cafe. It’s good to have them back.

A vis­ual STD

Speak­ing of re­al­ity TV come­backs, through­out the sum­mer

Love Is­land mad­ness in­fected the telly-watch­ing masses like a vir­u­lent vis­ual STD. Now that the itch has sub­sided we’re left star­ing down the bleak win­ter­time pon­der­ing about the where­abouts of our sum­mer loves. Fear not, as ITV2 has given Kem and Chris, Love

Is­land’s own PJ & Dun­can, a two-episode spin-off ti­tled Chris & Kem: Straight Outta Love

Is­land. It os­ten­si­bly fol­lows the pair try­ing to re­alise their dreams of be­com­ing hip-hop stars. Couldn’t they have just asked fel­low is­lander Blazin’ Squad’s Mar­cel for tips?

Un­for­tu­nately, what ITV failed to un­der­stand when it was cook­ing up this con­trivance is that no one wants to see Kem and Chris do any­thing. The beauty of Love Is­land was that it was a hu­man zoo where the cam­eras were rolling end­lessly to catch the con­tes­tants mash up their metaphor­i­cal drop­pings and dis­cover gold.

This sub-Chal­lenge An­neka quest – with the boys be­ing of­fered a gig at Min­istry of Sound, ter­ror­is­ing poor Stor­mzy and try­ing to work out the dif­fer­ence be­tween a bal­a­clava and a ban­dana – is the type of bar­gain-base­ment ef­fort they used to pawn off on Joey Es­sex. Both boys are still as like­able as ever, with Kem’s nat­u­ral charisma out­shin­ing the of­ten-con­fused Chris, who still un­nerv­ingly re­sem­bles David Brent trapped in the body of David Beck­ham.

The only mo­ments of real bril­liance oc­cur when Chris’s

Love Is­land match Olivia ar­rives on screen. A for­got­ten EastEn­ders femme fa­tale, her mun­dane ar­gu­ment with him about wet tow­els ends up be­ing the high­light of the show.

Still, the boys get to per­form their “hit”, A Lit­tle Bit Leave It but they prob­a­bly should have left it and us with the mem­o­ries of our bliss­ful fan­tasy is­land.

This cav­al­cade of cretins are the first con­tes­tants to take part un­der the spec­tre of Brexit. But Shug­gsy as­sures the as­sem­bled bas­tards that he’ll be the only one choos­ing who will “re­main”

Re­morse­less ghouls: The line-up of con­tes­tants on this year’s run of ‘The Ap­pren­tice’

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