The Apprentice, BBC1, Wednesday
PhoneShop, E4, Thursday
It's the only reality show where competence and self-awareness matter more than exhibitionism. And guess what? The women trounced the men...
Sunday 10 October 2010
Coca-Cola, Microsoft, IBM, Nokia, McDonald's...the CEOs at the world's leading companies will be shaking in their boardrooms at the news last week that there is fresh competition on the way in the cuddly, spiky-haired shape of 21-year-old Stuart Baggs, a "telecoms entrepreneur" from the Isle of Man.
Baggs's introductory speech was one of many memorable moments as the sixth series of The Apprentice began: "People aspire to have a flash car, maybe a house in the country – I've got all that already. Where's my glass ceiling? I don't have one," Baggs bragged. "I am Stuart Baggs the Brand. [I'm capping that just in case he's trademarked it.] I'm confident. I'm unique. I'm successful." Confident? Yes. Unique? No question. Successful? Hmmm.
That Baggs survived was largely down to the fact that, each year, Sir, sorry Lord Alan Sugar fine-tunes his acumen for spotting the country's biggest imbeciles. True, sometimes it takes an imbecile of magnitude to succeed in business, but as last week's episode reminded us, there is more than one way to sell a sausage.
So while the men's team – led by one Dan Harris – opted for the stack'em-high, sell-'em-cheap approach, the women's team – led by the strangely able and largely likeable (for now) Joanna Riley – took the decision to go gourmet – spending more than £500 on meat, while the meatheads kept their outlay under £300.
The difference in approach said more about the team leaders than it did about gender. Riley, despite being under constant attack from a certain Melissa Cohen (who might have had her endless opinions taken seriously had she not bottled out of leading the group), held her nerve and team together. Harris, meanwhile, proved himself to be management material only if that phrase is preceded by the word "anger".
He thumped tables; he swore; he yelled; and he told his colleagues that he would "lead the team while they would do all the work". And who wouldn't want a boss like that?
Harris also insisted that it was his "balls on the line", and, in another memorable boardroom showdown, Lord Sugar duly chopped them off (metaphorically). All of which is why The Apprentice – which originated in the US in 2004 – has now been sold to 23 countries and why the UK version rolls on regardless of personnel. (The wonderful Margaret Mountford has been replaced on Su-gar's team by Karren Brady while Adrian Chiles has given up the You're Fired! hot seat to Dara O'Briain.)
Who'll win? Who cares. That's not why anyone watches. We watch for Sugar's withering "hmmms", Nick Hewer's sour-lemon face, soundbites such as "Everything I touch turns to sold" (the Baggs Brand, again) and the invention, under duress, of words such as "cringeable". We watch because, unlike other reality shows that keep the deluded on because they "make good TV", The Apprentice tends to reward competence and those who (reverse pterodactyls aside) avoid making fools of themselves. Which means, sadly, Baggs will be gone soon. Although, if his brand needs a slogan, his "If you have any complaints, please keep them to yourself" will do nicely.
It's a shame The Apprentice is recorded in advance, because the Baggs lad could learn a thing or two from the mobile-phone salesmen in PhoneShop. "Thank you for the commission. You're dead to me," summed up their technique. Is PhoneShop funny enough to lock its audience down into a long-term contract? Not sure. But the first episode had just enough going for it to make me happy to pay as I go, for now.
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