The View From Here

The Apprentice

Michael Bonner

There is, of course, plenty that's wonderful about The Apprentice. Let's start with how a bunch of jumped-up estate agents, regional sales reps and “risk managers” stab each other in the back and bicker while displaying the level of intelligence usually associated with lesser Crustaceans. It’s the same reason you might watch Big Brother, so you can hoot cynically as the worst specimens that a few million years of evolution has to offer parade their tawdry, desperate dreams across the screen.

The Apprentice is actually even funnier than Big Brother. Though both sets of contestants are generally motivated by the same thing – money, fame, success, greed – the Big Brother housemates are, by and large, of fairly limited aspirations. They don’t really have to do much but doss around by the pool and hope that by showing off the right amount of cleavage/character quirks/bitchiness they’ll find themselves catapulted into the limelight, or at the very least the right kind of Essex nightclub, the one frequented by Premiership footballers where the toilet seats are paved with gold.

But the contestants on The Apprentice are hard-workers, driven by Gordon Gekko-like principals of corporate ruthlessness who get up early enough in the morning to press their pastel-coloured ties and blow-dry their hair. And what makes The Apprentice so howlingly funny is how self-delusional they are. They really believe they’ve got what it takes to “make it” in the cutthroat upper echelons of the business world.

My favourite part of the show is when they balls up one of the tasks set at the start of each episode by Sir Alan Sugar, then turn on each other during the debriefing session in Sugar's board room like semi-rabid feral wolves to avoid being shouted at and/or sacked by Sir Alan. No one likes getting a bollocking, least of all from someone who displays the combined charm of the Mitchell brothers from EastEnders and Stalin, but it’s the way the would-be apprentices take their evisceration from Sugar with a polite “Thank you, Sir Alan,” before obsequiously departing the board room. Then, presumably, to be escorted to a small ante-chamber and stabbed to death with a poison-tipped shoe by Sir Alan’s own Rosa Klebb, Margaret Mountford.

Anyway, last night’s programme was fantastic by any standards. The two teams – Alpha and Renaissance – were charged with devising a commercial for tissues. Team Alpha (why not Alpha Max? Surely that would have been more thrusting and aspirational..?) were headed up by the objectionable Alex, who looks like an also-ran from a Take That covers band and is a master at passive-aggressive, back-stabbing bastardy. He had in tow low-rent Essex boy Lee and Sloaney Lucinda, who complained about everything. Team Renaissance were led by Raef, an arrogant posho who was saddled with the equally posh through drippy Michael and self-serving Claire, who’s little more than the class bully. Team Alpha designed a tissue box that looked like a cheap cereal packet and shot an advert of concrete-clad crassness. Team Renaissance came up with a tasteful box design and hired Sian Lloyd to star in their commercial, which was remarkably tasteful and well-shot but made the fatal mistake of not really featuring the product at all. Needless to say, Team Alpha’s ad – the kind of thing you find running on daytime TV shows like Jeremy Kyle – won. And it won by dint of its absolute lack of skill, wit or imagination, but simply because the product was slapped on screen at every opportunity. There is, the conclusion runs, no room for art in business.

What was fun was watching Raef and Michael throw themselves into the project. Raef, it transpires, has trod the boards in his time, while Michael ran a theatre group at university. This meant they could sit in the back a people carrier trying to out am-dram each other, Raef declaiming a windy speech, Michael singing one of Fagin’s songs from Oliver! in comedy-Jew voice. They got carried away with each other’s brilliance on the ad shoot, much back-slapping and self-congratulations, Michael declaring “You could be the next Fellini!” of Raef’s formidable skills behind the camera. Once in the boardroom, however, Michael proceeded to do for Raef pretty much what Brutus did to Caesar on, lo, those fateful ides of March. It was shameless, weasely and utterly vile. Brilliant!

Alex, meanwhile, was pretty flat as a team leader, and really only won because Team Renaissance singularly failed to grasp that the point of a commercial is to sell a product. Also, why on earth did Raef get a TV weather forecaster to advertise tissues..? The mind, she boggles.

So, Alex and Claire – who I loathe equally, by the way – lived to fight another day. Which is great, because it gives me reason to risk an aneurism hurling spit-flecked obscenities at my TV set next week.

Who do you think, then, should win The Apprentice? And how long until the next series of Masterchef...?


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