Lord Su­gar needs a new boast­ful footrest, and 16 crisply suited wasp-chew­ers are ea­ger to prove how much they want the job

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - NEWS - PA­TRICK FREYNE

Apprentice 2019 will be a lit­tle dif­fer­ent, I think. Brexit will have come and gone by then and few will re­mem­ber the old ways (partly be­cause with­out EU safety reg­u­la­tions there’ll be a coat­ing of lead on ev­ery­thing).

Lord Su­gar, garbed in a skull mask, spiked shoul­der pads and leather cod­piece, will make most of his pro­nounce­ments from astride an ar­moured bat­tlewagon stud­ded with the skulls of failed apprenti, flanked by his dread com­pan­ions “Claude” and “Karen”, now dressed as monks. But the weekly tasks will be pretty run-of-the-mill.

Week one: Scav­enge for food. Week two: Ex­pe­ri­ence new cul­tures (smug­gling diesel across the bor­der). Week three: trade with the river peo­ple (we need their healthy rats!). Week four: hu­man re­sources puzzle – where’s Den­nis? Week five: prod­uct de­vel­op­ment puzzle – what kind of meat is this? Week six: dis­pute res­o­lu­tion - en­ter the Thun­der­dome! Week seven: would you like an­other help­ing of Den­nis? I ad­mit now that the meat was Den­nis; I shouldn’t have lied be­fore. Week eight: spread­sheets!

This fu­ture sea­son won’t be on tele­vi­sion, of course. The Tories will burn all the tele­vi­sions in March 2019 to stop witches. Apprentice 2019 will in­stead be whis­pered by fire­sides as the peo­ple feast on curvy black ba­nanas and chlo­ri­nated rat and wor­ship a gi­ant wicker Boris. Mean­while, over in Ire­land, aka Eiropa, ev­ery­one will work for Google and be in the ’Ra.

But let’s take a step back. It’s still 2018 and the BBC has just launched the 14th se­ries of The Apprentice. Sir Alan Su­gar, look­ing like a wise old bas­ket­ball, just can’t get enough apprenti (this is the plu­ral). He’s got 13 of them al­ready but he wants more. He’s the Benny Hill of apprenti. “I can’t wait to have me an­other apprentice!” he says, tuck­ing his nap­kin into his shirt and smack­ing his lips. En­ter 16 crisply-suited wasp-chew­ers strid­ing pur­pose­fully into the void. It is, yet again, a ver­i­ta­ble buf­foon­ery of apprenti (buf­foon­ery is the col­lec­tive noun) with their wheelie suit­cases and out­ra­geous boast­ing.

One says she’s “the Bey­oncé of busi­ness”, ap­par­ently un­aware that Bey­oncé her­self is “the Bey­oncé of busi­ness”.

An­other prides her­self on be­ing a “mumpreneur”, which, now that I think of it, would make an ex­cel­lent ti­tle for the next in­stal­ment of the Mummy hor­ror fran­chise.

A third is in de­nial about a se­ri­ous med­i­cal con­di­tion. “I’ve got so much self-con­fi­dence ooz­ing from my skin,” he says. The poor man.

A fourth has worse prob­lems but is also in de­nial: “I’m like a cash ma­chine,” he says with de­light. “If you press the right but­tons I will give you money.” (Imag­ine wak­ing up emit­ting money like a cash ma­chine, read­ers – ter­ri­fy­ing.)

A fifth ut­ters a warn­ing for pos­ter­ity. “I’m an ex­trem­ist,” she says, mat­ter-of-factly. “My goal is world­wide dom­i­na­tion.”

A sixth breaks my heart. “I’d rather cry in a Fer­rari than in a banger,” he says, ap­par­ently clear that his fu­ture in­volves cry­ing in some sort of car.

A sev­enth has an in­ter­est­ing plan that in­volves man­han­dling live­stock. “I don’t just grab the bull by the horns. I put him in a head­lock and squeeze ev­ery op­por­tu­nity that comes out of him.”

You get the gist. They’re a pile of swag­ger­ing clock­work cocks, their skins slick with “con­fi­dence”, their eyes brim­ming with tears, money spurt­ing from slots in their glossy heads, their lips gen­tly hum­ming Crazy in Love as they mas­sage the glands of a con­fused bull.

We first see Lord Su­gar sit­ting in a fancy car near a plane. It’s im­plied that he’s been on the plane, like some sort of king or wizard, but then we see him walk­ing, us­ing his legs like a peas­ant. “If you’re so rich how come you’re us­ing your legs?” I shout.

Laugh­ing at Lord Su­gar’s “jokes” is the first test. Lord Su­gar has many jokes, though he ut­ters them joy­lessly, as though he’s be­ing funny by ac­ci­dent, and he seems a bit an­noyed when peo­ple laugh.

For ex­am­ple: when one of the apprenti de­scribes her­self as a nut en­thu­si­ast, he says, “You’ll find out that there are a few nutty peo­ple here.” The apprenti laugh like fools, happy gur­gling fools, laugh­ing with the scowl­ing peanut man who they love like a crin­kled money-Christ.

“Make me money and don’t piss me off,” says Lord Su­gar even­tu­ally, tired of their guff. “If you are un­happy with my process you can go tell it to my HR firm Did­dums and Don’t Care.”

This is pre­sum­ably a real HR firm, oth­er­wise he’d be risk­ing a law­suit.

So fickle and ran­dom

He splits the apprenti into male and fe­male herds, much like the deer in the Phoenix Park, and then dis­patches them to Malta (“while we’re still wel­come”) with a list of items to pro­cure. The list is so fickle and ran­dom – some wine, a model of a boat, a quan­tity of salt, win­dow blinds – it would make a more cu­ri­ous group in­sane. Not this lot, who take to their re­spec­tive roles with the zeal of Brexit ne­go­tia­tors, by which I mean they do lit­tle use­ful re­search and spend the day shout­ing English loudly at baf­fled for­eign­ers.

“It turns out that ev­ery­one just sleeps all day around here, they don’t bother open­ing the shops,” says a man named David, who is at least try­ing to un­der­stand the cul­ture.

One of my favourites so far is Jackie, a Cana­dian wo­man who tricks an­other wo­man, Jas­mine, into be­ing project leader just so she can spend the rest of the pro­gramme snip­ing at her. I also have a soft spot for Alex be­cause, on pur­chas­ing some wine for ¤59, he suc­cess­fully hag­gles with the phrase: “Would you do it for ¤58.99?”

It makes me think of the Cad­bury’s ad where a child grifter pays for choco­late with some but­tons and a toy uni­corn. She’d wipe the floor with Alex, the mad bitch.

Like most adults in the work­place, they’re all ter­ri­ble at their jobs. They shout over each other, steal credit and ap­por­tion blame. They go to the wrong parts of Malta. The girls’ team ac­ci­den­tally pro­cure two of the same item. The boys’ team spend time mea­sur­ing an oc­to­pus corpse when what Lord Su­gar was ac­tu­ally look­ing for was a con­fus­ingly named div­ing ap­pa­ra­tus.

At the end of the episode, fac­ing the wrath of our favourite su­crose-based aris­to­crat, it turns out the boys’ team have beaten the girls’ team. The boys are treated to a slap-up Mal­tese feed, much like the Bash Street Kids might have scoffed circa 1950 when Bri­tain was great. Mean­while the girls are treated to de­ri­sion from a crusty old pa­tri­arch, much like women re­ceived circa 1950 and, also, to­day.

Any­way, we’re un­der no il­lu­sions any­more that these shows are de­signed to find peo­ple who will be any­thing more than boast­ful footrests for his lord­ship. But The Apprentice and that other busi­ness-laud­ing pro­gramme, Dragons’ Den, were de­vel­oped in an era when “en­tre­pre­neur” was still an as­pi­ra­tional term and not, like nowa­days, an en­try in the DSM. These peo­ple take them­selves very se­ri­ously.

In Ire­land we’ve safe­guarded our na­tion from re­al­ity TV busi­ness­folk by cre­at­ing the con­se­quence-free, pre­tend role of “pres­i­dent” (not a real job) of “Ire­land Inc” (not a real coun­try) as a dis­trac­tion. Over in the UK and Amer­ica, how­ever, re­al­ity TV busi­ness values now shape pol­icy. So re­mem­ber, while it’s fun to snipe from the side­lines, at the end of the day snarky take-downs are no match for shame­less am­bi­tion.

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