Last Night's TV – 'The Apprentice'

Posted on: 16 June 2011 by Alexander Hay

Idiots launch an over-60s mag. What could possibly go wrong?

Why watch The Apprentice? Because there's something compelling about watching idiots who think they're clever.

This weekly-elimination reality TV show is most notable for Eastender-made-good, Lord Alan Sugar, who puts an ever-dwindling crowd of wannabe business types through their paces, before ejecting them (sadly, not out of an airlock) with a characteristic 'YOU'RE FIRED!!!'

If only he could sack them all, though there wouldn't be much to watch. He rather gives the game away in this episode when he declares: "I'm not looking for sales people! I'm looking for someone with a brain who can do business for me!"

But that's the whole point of the show. If any of the dolts were any good, they'd have got a job already. Instead they are referred to as the 'Entrepreneurial Elite', which sounds a lot like a euphemism for someone inbetween a spiv selling fake leather belts and a dodgy newsagent on the scale of wannabe SME ineptitude.

In any case, it must be a soul-crushing experience for young people to see people of their own age make the rest of them look utterly stupid. Expect lots of tears, drama, utter berks and smarmy, absurd pillocks who believe their own nonsense. Expect laughter and a deep pessimism about the future of humanity in equal measure. Behold – the show.

This week featured a mission to come up with a magazine for the ever-expanding 'freemium' mag market (if you've ever been handed a copy of Shortlist by a dejected business student in a yellow raincoat, you'll know what I mean).

Naturally, the stupidity reaches tidal wave proportions. One group, for example, is headed by a successful, liberated young woman who has benefited from the defeat of sexism and the hard work of feminists decades before she was born.

"Let's create a lad's mag!" she declares. The end result is a softcore porn mag aimed at bankers. Sisters, we are one.

The real 50-vehicle pileup, however, is with the other team, who've decided to launch a magazine for the over-60s.

"What do any of us know about being over 60?" one dolt asks sincerely when the idea is tabled, which might have revealed something to most people, but not to this crew, who press ahead, dauntless.

Cue the worst focus group ever. After all, it never looks good when one contestant asks another, "what should I ask them? 'What do you guys do?'"

"Bowling?" the other muppet wonders.

They've already got a problem when the focus group assembles - one older person reads Viz, another reads The Economist. Another wants grandkid-free holidays, and yet another practically shrieks at the thought of knitting patterns. It might be too much for one mag to cater for.

Still, there's two ways to face up to such a challenge. Either approach it in the best way you can or continue to shame your entire species with your stupidity. Guess which option was chosen?

"I don't know if you guys like humour, if you pick up on it or not..." one hapless creature queries. Well, obviously, or they wouldn't be there enjoying the complementary youth comedy.

Then there are the proposed titles, two of which are "Radiance" and "Eternal", both aptly summing up the disaster before it's even begun. This doesn't stop them though.

"Why don't we call it 'Coffin Dodger' instead?” yet another feeble minded apprentice asks back at team HQ before laughing at her own rapier-sharp wit.

"What's a term you call an old person?" says one of the contestants just leaving the focus group

"Old boot?" her colleague suggests.

"How about something about being hip? 'Be Hip?' 'Hip Replacement?” says HQ.

Guess which one they go for?

Lord Sugar's aide, sent along to keep an eye on the buffoonery and presumably supervise them whenever they have to use scissors, can only grimace.

Mission over, they are brought before Lord Sugar, and put under severe scrutiny. And quelle surprise, it is the hapless team behind 'Hip Replacement' who are in trouble. Beyond the jaw-dropping title and god-awful design, it is their inability to convince anyone to buy adspace (for some reason) that dooms them to Sugar's opprobrium.

While entertaining, The Apprentice isn't honest. The dream the show sells, like the rest of the reality TV genre, is that with a bit of luck, pixie dust and a camera shoved in your face, you too can be a star. And yet The Apprentice is hosted by someone who didn't do it that way.

Alan Sugar didn't vomit out hyperbole or management-speak doggerel. He just did it and kept on doing it until, after the glories of the Amstrad CPC 6128 and all those Sky Satellite boxes had long faded, he can now command a top-rated BBC TV show and dismantle the ambitions of greedy, power hungry office dogsbodies. There is a lesson there, but don't expect any of the contestants to fathom it.

Meanwhile, the Apprentice itself is entertaining and educational for the same reason - we get to see profoundly stupid and naive people get too much power and then wreck everything. It's an apt summary of our times.

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Alexander Hay

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