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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Overseas Business: The Apprentice U.K.

Posted By on Thu, Aug 28, 2008 at 1:28 PM

Add CNBC to the growing list of cable channels cheerfully dumbing down. (Remember when Bravo and A&E pimped high culture and not endless bitchy and sleazy reality fare, respectively?) Now the business-news channel has returned from the international-TV clearance sale with a three-year-old reality series, The Apprentice U.K., which is also, as you've likely guessed, already a knock-off of the American version.

Of course I tuned in, because I still enjoy The Apprentice -- if only for personal and petty reasons. The shows attracts those deeply annoying, go-for-it, ego-driven yet clueless sorts who drove most of us mad in high school -- and here they are back: all grown up and being humiliated on national TV by a blowhard with an orange comb-over.

Of course, the British version, set in London, offers a few variations: everybody has an accent (which can mean more in terms of cultural perception, i.e. working class, Northern, put-on); flashy pin-stripe suits are de rigueur for the men (and apparently reddish-purple-dyed hair for the women); the contestants get a nicer, bigger place to live; and the celebrity zillionaire (i.e. the Donald Trump replacement), at least for me, comes with no baggage.

Our business mogul is Sir Alan Sugar, an East End barrow boy made good, who now runs some amorphous mega-billion empire of something or other (the show assumes any natives watching will know all about Mr. Sugar, but I caught something about computers ...).

At once I preferred this guy to Trump, if only for the freshness, and his not-quite-smoothed-out rough edges. He appears to be a tiny, pudgy bearded fellow ('Tonight, the part of Sir Alan will be played by Bob Hoskins.") In the boardroom, Sir Alan clearly has a special seat that lets him tower nearly a foot above his adjacent colleagues. (Fine, but this could be finessed with more discretion.)

And whether to be trendy and give the Mockneys a run, or because that's just who he is, Sir Alan drops plenty of low-rent slang into his executive-speak: 'on yer bikes," 'suited and booted," 'old geezer" and 'done is done." He was also amusingly inarticulate about the winning team's prize -- 'I've got one of those capsule things on the Eye" -- and the reward itself smacked of Best Day Ever for a Street Sweeper and his Missus: drinking champagne on a gigantically vulgar Ferris wheel. (And this after the My Fair Lady challenge: selling flowers on the street!)

In fairness to Sir Alan, he seems more articulate and sharper than Trump, at least in the boardroom scenes. He's quicker to argue, to call bullshit and doesn't give off the bloated, treading-water, every-dumb-thing-I-say-is-golden vibe that Trump does.

After just one episode, it's too early to get a read on the 14 contestants, though two have surfaced early as most annoying. For the men, it's the looming, 6'9" Matthew, who among other suspect ventures founded something called The Tall Society.

Among the women (or 'girls" as the unreconstructed side of Sir Alan called them), Saira has already got me clenching my teeth. She's a master of that British passive-aggressive criticism that takes the form of long-winded politeness.: 'If I could just say something here and I really don't mean to be pointing out anyone in particular, but I really do think, after much reflection, and I'm sure you'll agree with me, that this may not be the best strategy, that is if we're meant to be a team, which I think we all agree we should be."

And so on. And on. And on.

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