Last Night's TV: The Apprentice/BBC1
Jo Frost: Extreme Parental Guidance/Channel 4
This World: Italy's Bloodiest Mafia/BBC2
Thursday 14 July 2011
Well, it's been a quiet news week so far, but here's a big story: Shock Apprentice Format Change! In previous series, the penultimate episode of Lord Sugar's talent search has seen the surviving candidates subjected to a kind of mini-cab rendition. They're plucked at dawn from their luxury rental and taken to some anonymous corporate shed in the outer suburbs, where Sugar's trained interrogators are unleashed on them. It's Abu Ghraib in pinstripes – humiliation, psychological torture and helpless curriculum vitae thumbscrewed until the blood runs. It's the episode that you usually think is going to be a bit dull, until the first bead of sweat appears and you realise that it's actually a relief to get a break from the standard format. But not this year. Although the candidates were talking about interview suits as they scrambled for their morning pick-up, the producers had pulled a switch on them. They were going to have to come up with a concept for a new fast-food franchise, serving up crap to others rather than being forced to eat it themselves.
Jim seized the reins at once: "I've got two girls on board who'd probably appreciate a bit of direction," he said grandly, sensibly ensuring that the directionless didn't actually overhear this remark. They then settled on a concept rather as if they were deciding where they were going to eat themselves: "I've eaten in quite a few Mexican restaurants... I'd definitely recommend Mexican," said Susan, whose tendency to frame banal experience as specialist expertise has been one of the reliable pleasures of the series. On the other team, Helen and Tom opted to wave the flag with an all-British pie restaurant, their patriotic branding only mildly let down by their decision to name one of their products after Christopher Columbus. "He's British... isn't he?" said Tom, with worrying uncertainty.
Susan's in-depth knowledge of Mexican cuisine wasn't proving to be quite the asset she'd suggested either. She vetoed the use of peppers in the branding of the restaurant on the grounds that they had nothing to do with Mexican food and pressed hard instead for the groundbreaking concept of a sombrero. This, she later claimed, was to bring a bit of "personality" to the brand. Tom and Helen, meanwhile, had modelled themselves on British Airways corporate design – ending up with a surprisingly plausible explosion of red, white and blue and the trade name MyPy – serendipitously arrived at by Tom. "I've just dyslexically misread something and come up with some genius ideas," he excitedly told his colleague, allowing Nick an opportunity to put his eyebrow muscles through a vigorous workout.
Genius or not, Tom and Helen's operation – which actually managed to get food in front of the customer before it had gone cold – triumphed over the other team, which couldn't. And despite a performance of stammering incompetence from Jim when he was questioned about his business plan it was Natasha who was finally released. On Sunday, three more of them receive parole and one poor bastard gets an extended sentence.
Jo Frost: Extreme Parental Guidance is a rather promising title. "Give the insolent little sod a clip round the ear" perhaps? Or "Chains and handcuffs can be a solution to poor sleep discipline"? But as it happens "extreme" doesn't mean anything at all, apart from the addition of a roadshow section that offers the parents of Britain the opportunity to humiliate their offspring in front of a live audience. This week, Nanny Frost was dealing with a nine-year-old who wouldn't eat anything but custard creams (presumably signed up after a hot bidding war with BBC3's Freaky Eaters) and a seven-year-old girl who was being bullied at school. Frost's advice is always sensible and she has a velvet hand inside the iron glove, a stern tenderness for both child and parent that can be rather touching. But the programme she's in has been formatted almost to death, with each storyline cut into baby portions and scattered across the hour, so that every time it returns you have to be told all over again what's going on. As in quite a lot of format television these days the ratio of recapitulation to narrative advancement has diminished to the point where you wonder whether there's any point in tuning in before the final quarter of an hour, when you generally get again everything that's happened in the preceding three-quarters.
If you saw Matteo Garrone's wonderful film Gomorrah then much of Marc Franchetti's film This World: Italy's Bloodiest Mafia will already have been familiar. It was still worth watching, though, partly because it gave a prominent place to some of the few brave souls who dare to oppose the pervasive power of the Camorra, including a young law student whose mother had been killed by turf-war crossfire and the son of a Camorra gang boss who'd turned his back on his patrimony. But also because it offered a corrective to some of the overhyped rhetoric of the last week in relation to systemic corruption and power elites. If you want to see what corruption really looks like then you can't do much better than Naples, with its street full of rotting garbage and its street signs pierced by bullet holes. Things might have got sleazy here, but nobody yet has ended up underneath a sheet on a city street, with a runnel of blood leading to the gutter just because they dared speak out.
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