Thursday, 10 April 2008

TV Review: The Apprentice

Sir Alan Sugar has toughened up ahead of this year's edition of The Apprentice, reminding us, "Mary Poppins I am not. I'm not going to hold your hand, I'm not going to tell you what to do. You're on your own two feet."

He needed to. Last year's edition, while entertaining, ended in farce, with Sugar selecting a doltish twerp with tendencies towards casual racism to be his apprentice.

Aside from the fuckwittery of the decision to crown failed investment banker Simon Ambrose as the competition's winner ahead of at least two more qualified candidates, The Apprentice descended into some sort of post-modern hubbub as Jadine Johnson was sectioned under the Mental Health Act and the show was investigated for breaching the Sexual Discrimination Act after Sugar's intemperate ghouls interrogated Kristina Grimes and Katie Hopkins (Alf as reimagined by Mills & Boon) about their child-care arrangements.

After the tumultuous third season, it's difficult not to think that The Apprentice may have passed its best; partly because the format is now so well-worn, but mainly because with each passing week, the manipulations of the production team are becoming increasingly obvious.

While you’d be an idiot not to expect an element of artifice in any of Mark Burnett's programmes, the absurdity of the contestants' behaviour smacks of the urgings of a desperate production crew. It's impossible to believe, for example, that in week two the girls would have attempted to charge five grand for doing two hundred quid's worth of laundry.

So far in season four we've been left to watch people flounder and fail not because they’re incompetent chumps, but because it's a semi-scripted business soap. It's the audience that's being taken for a ride by the show's cynicism, not the contestants.

There's still some enjoyment to be had, of course. After watching Jadine, hopeless kilt-wearing bloater Andy Jackson and brick-breaking loon Ifti Chaudhri surrender to varying degrees of mental breakdown last year, unconscionably supercilious snob Nicholas de Lacy Brown has already succumbed to the pressure, admitting to the former Tottenham chairman, in the season's hitherto highlight, that he finds it "very difficult to have conversations about football."

Others will surely follow. After claiming that it requires ten tomatoes to make four bowls of soup but one hundred and fifty tomatoes to make fifteen bowls, it's difficult not to imagine Matt Lucas lookalike, bank manager Kevin Shaw breaking down after a typical Nick Hewer glare. It's also not beyond the realms of possibility that, by week six, the painfully out of her depth Sara Dhada will have suffered an irreversible psychotic breakdown while furiously attempting to butter four hundred ham rolls.

As ever there are a couple of likeable contestants and I've developed an early fondness for hard working, ex-army geezer Simon Smith and dead-eyed Irish vamp Jennifer Maguire, but I'm very much looking forward to ruthless, spade-faced single mum Jenny Celerier attempting to increase Alpha's revenue by installing a cigarette machine in the children's cancer ward at Great Ormond Street Hospital.

The Apprentice is on BBC One, Wednesday at 9pm. Of course, if you miss it you can always use your Amstrad computer and watch it on iPlayer.

What, you haven't got an Amstrad computer?

Oh, that's right, it's because Alan Sugar is shit, and has done fuck all of any use since he flogged Gazza to Lazio.

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