THE APPRENTICE

by John Boland

For most of Pat Kenny’s new current affairs show, The Frontline (RTE1), the host was content to stand back and let the audience have its say, but no such modesty marked the second season of TV3’s The Apprentice, which, like its predecessor, was unashamedly about Bill Cullen.

“You’re all here because you want to work with me,” Bill informed his fourteen contestants at the outset, thereby somewhat missing the point, in that the real reason they were all there was to be on television, with Bill simply the enabler of that ambition.

But if he was confused about that, he seemed even more muddled about Jackie Lavin, whom he described as his “right-hand man” – a gender error that really shouldn’t occur after thirty years of sharing bed and  boardroom with her. Happily, in the follow-up post-mortem show, The Apprentice: You’re Fired (also TV3), host Brendan O’Connor was on hand to assure us that Jackie was “still technically and legally a woman.” What a relief to get that sorted out.

The contestants in this new season went out of their way from the start to alienate sympathy. “I’d say there’s going to be a few bitches in there,” declared building services engineer Donal, before lamely adding “and a few assholes,” as if only men were gifted with such accoutrements. A little later the same Donal complained that a wrangle between a couple of his male colleagues was “like two women squabbling together” – an observation that caused Jackie to hiss “Two women?!?” and Donal to beat a hasty retreat.

Then there was schoolteacher Samantha, a woman of “endless and boundless energy.” That was her own assessment, anyway, though her fondness for shouting at potential customers though a megaphone and of bursting into raucous song on street corners encouraged other descriptions. “A nutcase,” Brendan O’Connor suggested in his follow-up show. “Horrendous,” opined panellist Gerald Kean. “Almost brand-damaging,” was the verdict of HB ice cream executive Colette.

In fact, The Apprentice: You’re Fired was the jolliest part of the proceedings, with O’Connor bracingly rude as he mocked the contestants’ mania for talking in cliches and even getting away (just about) with courting misogyny as he described one female competitor’s street tactics as “whoring for ice cream” and invited the panellists to rate the “hotness” of another (“Hot and bitchy” was Kean’s approving opinion).

O’Connor also promised us “sexual shenanigans” in future episodes of the series. How could one not keep watching it?

I wrote earlier in the week about The Frontline and, with four days to reconsider my verdict, I see no reason to change it. The set, with audience members sectioned off in groups of tiers, forced Pat Kenny to move constantly from tier to tier and back to the remotely-placed panel, and this seemed to me needlessly fussy – while also inviting unwelcome reminders of those trashy morning shows hosted across the water by Trisha and Jeremy Kyle in which hapless “offenders” are confronted by an audience baying for blood.

Kenny negotiated all this with his customary expertise and assurance and certainly the emphasis on audience participation disbars panellists from making lengthy obfuscatory party-line speeches, which was the besetting sin of The Frontline’s predecessor, Questions and Answers. But democratic egalitarianism is one thing and the Tower of Babel is another, and there were times in this opening programme when too many voices amounted to too little coherence – four complaints well delivered are preferable to forty that are hurried through.

Eamon Dunphy and Fintan O’Toole were among the most coherent voices in the audience and their contributions were both passionate and telling. Indeed, one almost felt sorry for banking federation chief Pat Farrell and construction industry spokesman Tom Parlon, whose allotted role on the night was to sit on the panel and suffer the audience’s anger. I’d imagine they couldn’t wait to get out of the place. Indeed, their presence seemed to be so peripheral – mere catalysts for public anger – that I wondered why they’d even been invited along.

Finance Minister Brian Lenihan was a more central presence in the second half of the show, but again it was the audience who dominated. Is this to be the template for the show? Apparently so, though that will probably reduce Kenny’s role from that of knowledgeable and rigorous interviewer to that of skilled moderator, which seems a pity.

Kevin McCloud’s Grand Tour of Europe (Channel 4) retraced the footsteps of posh 19th century English travellers, but at breakneck speed. Seven minutes in Paris were followed by three minutes in Genoa and about fifteen in Venice. The cityscapes were enchanting but what was the point?

On Who Do You Think You Are? (RTE1), former politician and current bookmaker Ivan Yates decided it was time for a bit of reflection, telling us at the outset that although he had lived his life “at 100 miles an hour” (Keith Richard, eat your heart out), he was now “moving towards the mature end” of his existence and was keen to find out where he came from.

Luckily RTE was on hand to grant him his wish and among the things he discovered was that, way back in his well-to-do Church of Ireland family, there’d been a couple of Quakers. “This comes as a shock to me,” Ivan said, though all I could think of was Jennifer Lopez’s line in Out of Sight when a guy trying to chat her up in a bar makes some rather dull claims for himself: “Honestly, Dave, who gives a shit?”

Or, to put it another way, while Ivan’s ancestral discoveries may have been fascinating to himself, they held little interest for the general viewer. Reflecting on the “business difficulties” his hard-working merchant forebears sometimes got into, Ivan pondered his own bookmaking career. “I’ve tended to be in the more drossy, fluffy things in life,” he declared just before the ad break, adding “But enough about me.”

As those were precisely my own sentiments, I switched off the television and went to bed.

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