My viewing of the first episode of the new Apprentice series was conducted under an assumption, rapidly formulated during the first ninety seconds of the show, that these people cannot possibly be real; that such a concentration of frantically self-aggrandising, masturbatory gawpers cannot possibly exist — outside of fiction — in the space of one boardroom without the entire city of London disappearing up its own backside in an enormous implosion of bullshit. Once I established that premise, the show immediately became several times more watchable.
Be ye warned: this post contains spoilers. By which I mean I will talk about which useless shaft got fired last night.
I speak, of course, of this year’s “contestants” in the Lord Sugar Brown-Nose Superbowl. I nearly had an aneurism during the last series, as glob after glob of bullshit fell from the mouths of such luminaries as 14-year-old school uniform model Stuart “The Brand” Baggs, as he attempted to froth and thrash and blub his way out of being sent home with a note, but somehow that has already been eclipsed by the new series, which after a mere minute and a half had me stuffing a wet towel into my own throat to make the pain stop.
The format is a little different this time: instead of scratching at each other’s eyes for a chance to make Sugar’s tea (har), each contestant now attempts to insert their tongue the furthest up his ZX Spectrum in the hope that he will deign to invest in their own business, and proffer the odd bit of fatherly advice. Which, as it’s Sugar, will probably extend no further than, “shut up and finish your bloody homework.”
We’re introduced to the lucky few — “it’s the deal of the decade,” says the empurpled narrator — in a series of guff quotes and fast cuts of people walking through serious business locations like, you know, a featureless corridor; a tube platform; the toilets of Waterloo station. Each candidate, filling the screen, delivers a self-synopsis so vapid and cliche you wander if they’ve got a gun to their head, an off-screen interrogator demanding they say the first thing that comes to mind. “Don’t tell me the sky’s the limit if there are footprints on the Moon,” says plastic-face Melody. “I’ve got plenty of charisma and yeah, I’m not bad-looking,” says Vincent, a strange derivative of Nic Cage with Ron Jeremy’s moustache. Tom, a Michael Sheen lookalike, theatrically removes his specs and warbles, “underneath… these glasses… is a core of steel.” Alex: “I am cold and hard.” And Gavin, with a hunted look in his eyes, manages to gasp, “fear of failure drives me every single day.” The poor sod.
And then out shuffles the Grand Scrotum himself, his trademark scowl permeating the frosted glass door of whatever wanking-cupboard-type arrangement that is at the back of the definitely-not-a-studio boardroom long before his chubby firing digits reach it. He’s back, but this time he wants you to beg for his help. And for most of these ego-strokers, the only help worth giving would be to hold up a mirror connected to a loudspeaker system playing their own absurd pronouncements on a loop until they threw themselves under the nearest bus. “Afternoon,” he grunts. “Afternoon, Lord Sugar,” they chorus. One chap nods enthusiastically as he mouths the words. He’s got the right idea.
Their task is to take £250 of Sugar’s pocket money, buy some fresh produce, add value to it and sell it on for a profit. And so as the day unfolds we’re treated to the sad but amusing spectacle of two gangs of snake-oil merchants trying to outdo each other in a game of Who Can Be The Most Serious Business Person as they argue over strategy, market, budgets and how to juice oranges quickly. Everyone tries to assert some dominance early on, but by a strange process of shouting and ignoring the business strengths of their teammates, Edward and Melody are “elected” project managers. Melody talks like she’s speaking to an infant and mentions the Dalai Lama within a few seconds; Ed is an accountant who hates his job so much that he forgets everything he ever learned while doing it and attempts to complete the task by bluffing, guessing and going a bit red.
The task isn’t that remarkable. Some early character traits start to become apparent, though — pocket-size Susan will almost certainly be the first to cry, probably in the next episode. Jim is a good sort, getting on and being sensible, and deploying his highly effective situation-defusal technique (of saying “I’m defusing the situation” while bundling one of the aggressors away) to prevent a fight among the empty orange halves. Ellie is a bruiser of a lass from Yorkshire who can’t spell “vegetable” and considers pasta to be culturally beyond her. Edna is a terrifying battleaxe of a woman whose iron grip on the purse-strings will likely be misapplied to someone’s throat before the series is done. And there are quite a few people we still haven’t heard a peep out of, which will probably be used as justification for silently offing one next episode.
The adventure in food production winds up and Ed’s complete failure to be at all useful predictably results in his team placing last. He blusters his way through the boardroom mud fight by abandoning relevance and blaming Gavin for being “spineless” in the way he tried to volunteer for PM. All very odd, though perhaps he’s angry that Gavin didn’t work harder to save him from himself. Sugar gives him the boot, along with a gentle word about having no shame, which he certainly seems to have already taken on board. In the waiting room, he gives the other two the silent treatment, and 16-year-old walking fringe Leon practically falls over his fellow survivor in their rush to escape the awkwardness. Ed goes home, presumably to watch people from his flat window and stop washing.
The victorious Team Venture celebrate with champagne and more exalted tales from Melody’s star-crossed life. There is something very strange about her indeed, like she’s speaking from within the confines of strong hypnosis. Her lines are practised to perfection; one must wonder if they must eventually run out. What will she say then? If we’re lucky, her trap-door of a mouth might fall open, and a small creature might tumble out, just like that one in Men in Black. Ah, a man can dream.