Last Night's TV: Junior Apprentice, BBC1
Cracking Antiques, BBC2
Thursday 13 May 2010
It's The Apprentice, but not quite as we know it. For one thing, Surallen has gone – that terrified smear of an honorific rendered obsolete by last year's ennoblement. It's Lord Sugar now, which doesn't have the same ring to it at all, though it did provide for one unintentional moment of comedy in last night's opener, when a prospective firee fell over himself trying to make the depths of his humility clear: "No no... definitely not Sir... Lord," he stammered, making Sugar sound like a wrathful Jahweh, putting in an appearance to smite the unprofitable. For another thing, all the contestants in Junior Apprentice are teenagers, which leaves the avid viewer in something of a conscience trap when it comes to gleeful loathing. Half the pleasure of The Apprentice has always been comeuppance – the certifiable ego-pump of the opening few minutes stirring in us a desire for public humiliation. Do we want to see teenagers cry, though? And even if we do (don't judge me till you've seen them in action), won't our self-indulgence leave a slightly sour taste behind it?
They certainly appear to have grasped the basic principles of Apprentice participation, which is to oversell and under deliver. "I pretty much do anything to win... I even cheat on board games to win," said one of them, in the Sociopaths Parade that traditionally opens a new series. "I'm ruthless in business," said another, a dapper Irish toff called Jordan. "If somebody is there that I don't need in my company they're gone. It's as simple as that." Jordan, to put it mildly, doesn't suffer from self-esteem issues, but then I don't suppose the shy boys got very far through the selection process. Arjun, who loves maths, is also confident about his people skills: "From a very early age, I've learned how to mirror people and how to charm them without them learning my ulterior motives," he explained cheerfully, a Star in Psychological Manipulation clearly tucked away there among his top percentile GCSE results. If it was a competition to look insufferably precocious, then Jordan had some stiff competition.
The first challenge was to sell £500 worth of cheese, hitting a London street market to unload as much smoked mozzarella and Stinking Bishop as was possible by the end of the day. The girls, as is traditional, began with the task of deciding who they hated most and working out how to show it. The boys, equally true to type, created a pumped-up sense of matey camaraderie that you knew was doomed to shatter at the first sign of trouble, which came about an hour in, as they flapped around their market stall trying to sort their goudas from their stiltons. Across town in Covent Garden, the girls had deployed their secret weapon – Zoe. Or rather Zoe had deployed herself – her experience of flogging vintage schmutter on Greenwich Market giving her a certain sassy assurance when it came to whipping up sales. "She has a commanding presence," said Nick, giving the adjective a little edge of ambiguity. Zoe's project manager, Hibah, a bit put out by how successful her "employee" was proving, went off to have a little weep round the back.
Thanks largely to Zoe's flirtatious hard sell the boys tanked – a late attempt at pavement selling delivered only mixed returns ("Are you a fan of fresh cheese?" ran one fine pitch line) and their success in persuading a bemused-looking restaurateur to buy £400 of prime cheese for just £250 effectively killed off any hope of a profit. In the end, they lost £210 of the Lord's money, which, as regular viewers will know, he careth not for. Happily, justice was done in the end. Jordan (the one who had boasted about his ruthlessness) got the stubby finger, though in deference to his youth – and the liquid trembling of his eyes – Lord Sugar coated the pill with a lot more kind words than he usually employs. And in another departure from protocol, the firee gets to ride off into the sunset in the Sugar Roller, rather than a black cab, though when its owner learns what Jordan was saying in it, I think he may regret his generosity. "Give it five years, I can be just as successful, if not more successful, than Lord Sugar," he said. There's nothing like learning from your mistakes.
Cracking Antiques – a handy little programme for the austerity years – is a hymn to the pleasures of the flea market and auction room. It's essentially a makeover show in which someone's living room is first done up with high-street furniture and then all over again – for a fraction of the cost – with stuff from the cheap-and-cheerful end of the antiques trade. In between times, an antiques expert called Mark Hill – something of a precious object himself, with his elaborately scrolled eyebrows and Biedermeier cheekbones – informs us about sections of the knick-knack market that are currently seriously underpriced. Last night, he and his co-presenter were rustling up a mid-century modern look, which meant a lot of Ercol furniture, Swedish built-in cabinets and a Seventies sideboard given "a bit of a zhuzh" with paint and a bit of pinstripe fabric. And whereas the high-street version of this look would have set them back £11,507, the pre-owned way of doing it only cost them £2,552. The result looked horrible to me, but I think Lord Sugar would have approved of their tight control of capital expenditure.
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