sun 20/09/2020

The Apprentice, Series 12, BBC One | reviews, news & interviews

The Apprentice, Series 12, BBC One

The Apprentice, Series 12, BBC One

New contestants just as full of bullshit and bluster

Two gimlet eyes and 18 soft targets

Now back for a twelfth series, The Apprentice has recently burnished its reputation as a career launchpad. Not, of course, for the poor contestants, gurning and strutting their way to the judgement end of Lord Sugar’s finger, but for the pointy one himself. A certain D Trump, who presided over the American version, now has much grander ideas for his presiding.

Now back for a twelfth series, The Apprentice has recently burnished its reputation as a career launchpad. Not, of course, for the poor contestants, gurning and strutting their way to the judgement end of Lord Sugar’s finger, but for the pointy one himself. A certain D Trump, who presided over the American version, now has much grander ideas for his presiding. As yet, Lord Sugar shows no sign of leaving the programme’s would-be Philip Green-a-likes to hunt down Jeremy Corbyn, cowering in the rhubarb patch. But on the strength of this first episode, Sugar is as authoritative as ever, so perhaps he should.    

The first five minutes, when contestants do their individual pitch to camera, are still excruciating. Most come across as utterly beyond the reach of satire, a fusion of Richard III and David Brent scripted by a cliché-bot. One was like a diamond – brilliant but so hard he can cut you, don’t you know. Another likened his impact on the team to a nuclear explosion, while a third was “king of the truth bomb”. I found myself toying with a nearby pair of scissors, experimenting how far under my thumbnail I needed to insert the blade to take my mind off the tsunami of cretinousness.  

Back in the real world, proper entrepreneurs have set out to transform daily life

If you can make it past this to the set-up of the task, the formula is still compulsively watchable. Its structure is (whether by design or accident) quite close to the standard Hollywood three acts, the conclusion of the tasks serving as the climax of the second act, allowing for a lengthy, bitter reckoning in the boardroom as act three. The teams’ feuding and bungling proceeds at great pace, and their total lack of self-awareness allows for lashings of farce, in this case with one team misdirecting the driver of their van of stock, and having nothing to sell at market.   

Lord Sugar’s new(ish) assistants, Karren Brady and Claude Littner, well understand their roles as wry, but damning, observers, and – so far – this series’ task required more in the way of strategic thinking than many previous challenges. One contestant, who narrowly avoided being the first to be fired, announced in her introductory sequence: “All I’ve ever wanted was to have as much money and as much power as possible.” Back in the real world, proper entrepreneurs, from George Stephenson to Henry Ford to Steve Jobs, have set out to transform daily life, not just fill the boots that are rather too big for the wearer’s modest acumen. “Reality television” is a fraudulent misnomer sometimes.

The Apprentice has endured 11 years and 12 series because, for better or worse, it reflects much about Britain today. Positively, the contestants are a diverse and vigorously aspirational crew. The incompetence and recrimination is cringeworthily enjoyable, yet there’s only so long you can watch the cat-fighting without feeling a bit queasy. Of course, it’s important for the televisual drama that there are arguments, and that not everyone is very good. But recent history casts into sharper relief the contestants’ belief that a naive assertion of the power of business can compensate for any amount of nonsensical bluster. Might The Apprentice become the urtext for cultural historians of the near future examining Britain’s contemporary ills? Your turn in the boardroom, Dr Liam Fox.

@matthewwrighter

Most contestants are utterly beyond the reach of satire, a fusion of Richard III and David Brent scripted by a cliché-bot

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