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TV Review: The Apprentice Endgames Near: It’s Martha Stewart Three, Donald Trump a Dynamite Two

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Maybe I’m nuts, and maybe I’m the only person left in America still watching, but I’m going to come right out and say that this has been a great season to be an Apprentice fan.

It’s been double the action for starters, with Martha Stewart’s lighter-touched and homier designed spin-off on Wednesday nights (NBC) and Donald Trump’s “You’re Not Tough Enough For This Town, You’re Fired” tough-as-nails variety holding down its usual Thursday night slot.

Allow me, if you will, to prove why Martha’s edition was surprisingly effective and entertaining and then I’ll get down to the nitty grit on the approaching finales of both Mark Burnett-produced editions.

The Apprentice: Martha Stewart serves as an unabashed effort to rehabilitate Stewart’s post-lock up image and cram down our throats at all opportunities that Martha Stewart: The Brand is as kick ass and take names as they come. And it’s a yummy brand too, we’re assured! All of this, of course, is fine and to be expected. After four seasons of Donald Trump: The Water and Donald Trump: The Breast Pump (okay, one of those might be made up) we weary viewers are well attuned to the heavy handed mauling of cross-promotional product branding blitzkrieg. In fact, the incessant commercial-in-segment followed by actual-commercial-segment featuring the same exact product seemed to be somewhat toned down this season. Or maybe that’s just the Digital Video Recorder talking, who knows?

While the opening credits of The Apprentice: Martha Stewart are syrupy cheese (“Sweet dreams are made of these,” we get it!) and Martha herself occasionally a little over-scripted, the overall vibe of the show is lighter, airier, and often more fun than The Don’s original. It’s the little things, as a glossy Martha Stewart Living media product might advise, and I must say that Martha hits them all just right. The show’s format has a looser feel to it, which allows Martha and her executive “helpers” (including Stewart’s daughter, Alexis) to banter entertainingly about the Apprentice wannabes. Post-firing – which is a much more civil “you’re just not a good fit” affair as compared to Donald’s tense and tensely lit boardroom – the gang again has a good little chat about the state of affairs before Martha writes a note to the week’s unfortunate send-off. I know I’m not the only one who became able at reading between the hand-written lines to discern the polite screw-offs from the genuine well wishes!

A spin-off Apprentice also allowed the audience to be treated to a slightly different brand (can’t get away from that word, sorry) of tasks that teams were judged upon each week. A serious effort was made, it seems, to inject creativity into the process, which made most episodes a generally engaging affair. An early test had both teams writing and producing a children’s book, for example.

I want to be on a writer’s version of The Apprentice, I wanted to shout out at several points! Who would run that show, though? Maybe combine it with The Contender and have Sly Stallone and Sugar Ray Leonard coach me through late night, instant coffee fueled writing action!

But I digress.

Reality shows, in the end, always boil down to casting. Fortunately, The Apprentice: Martha Stewart had the requisite lunatic on board to demand a return to the set each week. Jim, an ad executive from Pennsylvania, is the peculiar variety of maniac that allows him to be smart and hyper enough to win it all, but he walks obscenely close to the self destruct button at all moments. A reality television superstar, in other words! His antics include quoting Sun Tzu, prancing on conference tables like a monkey, hawking gourmet dip during a sales task by telling women that it’s good for bunions and that they should rub it on their feet, and generally screaming himself hoarse each week. He’s also an effective manipulator, if uber-obvious to the audience, and a self-described super-champion of The Apprentice gaming arts.

Jim’s also managed to squeeze through to the final three, which we’ll get to in a moment.

The now veteran Trump-led edition of The Apprentice started slow-ish but picked up steam as the season wore on. What was immediately obvious was a new emphasis on talented job applicants after a glaringly lackluster group suffered the audience through the destined-not-to-return Book Smarts versus Street Smarts season. In the end, the change of direction has really paid off as we’re left with two of the best candidates ambition and toil can buy: Randal, a consulting firm owner from New Jersey and Rebecca, a youthful (she’s 23!) but effective financial journalist from Chicago. Along the way there was the usual disaster-waiting-to-happen countdown (Markus… oh, Markus) and a few cliques and broken alliances that you come to expect on this sort of program.

One new development that popped up on both editions of The Apprentice this season was the multiple firing. Who will ever forget, for instance, what can only be referred to as the Dick’s Sporting Goods Day Massacre? The Don sent four players packing in one fell swoop after Team Excel’s fixation on a batting cage caused the average sales in their store to drop instead of improve! Trump seems to be gaining a taste for the multi-fire as he later knocked off Felisha and the hardnosed Alla to bring the competition down to the final two.

Another notable trend on the Donald side was the frequent replacement of old time executive helper George with Bill Rancic, the original Apprentice. Perhaps this is a prelude to a permanent switch? While George has a feisty, old school of hard knocks flavor, Rancic clearly brings a different kind of charisma, so don’t be surprised to see him more on the new edition of The Apprentice, which will reportedly take place in Los Angeles.

Enough of all that, though. Let’s get into predictions and analysis and snarky-yet-precious asides.

On the Martha Stewart side, it’s initially very easy to pick Dawna as the clear frontrunner as she’s the only clear adult left. She’s organized, level-headed, bright, and is the serious sort of worker bee you see rising in the ranks of companies every day. We’ve already mentioned Jim, so I’ll just add here that he enjoys annoying Dawna as he feels it “takes her off her game.” Meanwhile, Bethany – again on first appearance – seems like Jim’s co-dependent, wild-eyed sister. They nag each other, they bitch each other out (in front of clients!), and they whisper conspiratorially together… which mostly involves Jim pumping her full of the Sun Tzu-fueled pop military theory of the week.

The picture clouds up from there, however. Bethany has been remarkably strong of late, Jim is highly creative and bright for all his insanity, and Dawna strikes as more middle manager than Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia megastar.

Who do I pick? Oh hell, let’s say Bethany. I just can’t see it being Jim and Dawna is too safe.

We’re already into the final round on the original Apprentice, with the live finale to air next Thursday. Once again, the final two must manage a large-scale event replete with big name corporate sponsors, VIPs, and a slew of logistical challenges. A surprising and positive tweak was made, however, in that the final Project Managers were allowed to choose for themselves the three already-fired candidates that would serve as the employees of each team. In past years, a motley crew of misfits and camera hungry screw-ups were emphasized in the hope that good television would ensue. Again, the direction of quality-over-mess here is a winner.

It seems as though nature and humankind will conspire nonetheless to throw major screws into the machinery. Rebecca’s charity event emcee, Joe Piscipo (remember Jerry from Jersey on SNL?), may have to back out due to union snafus while the usually precise Randal may end up in over his head, literally, when his charity softball event gets rained out. Never trust the weatherman, the wise man said. And he got struck by lightning!

Rebecca v. Randal is a tough, tough choice, as The Don himself might say. Pure demographics might be unconsciously relied upon here, even though they shouldn’t. Rebecca’s frightfully young, though she displays leadership skills and savvy well beyond her years. The first female Apprentice was chosen just last season, while a minority candidate has never yet been made, which may in some small way favor the African American Randal. As for Randal, he’s obviously scary smart (he’s a Rhodes Scholar) and was universally respected and admired by all who worked with him. Which is highly unusual for Apprentice-land, to say the least!

I don’t think the racial/demo factors would come into play if there were any other obvious reasons to cling to. While a disastrous final event might factor in (they usually don’t become a huge factor), it looks to be a neck-and-neck call.

Which means I choose Randal.

I’ll also be choosing to catch the final episodes of both shows. That I can guarantee you.

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  • Aaman

    The episode yesterday was fabulous. The Don showed why he’s the Don when he went up to the suite to break the news. And both the finalists sure have class (and an edge)

    I’m not, never, ever, watching the Martha

  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com/ Eric Berlin

    I was wary of the Martha but was surprised at how good the overall show was. She also has really proved to me what a smart businesswoman she is.

  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com/ Eric Berlin

    Oh, and I agree that the Apprentice ep was great as are the candidates. I’m going to be upset when the season’s over… which likely says sad things about me that I won’t even get into.

  • http://freewayjam.blogspot.com uao

    I really hate to admit this, but I’ve watched each season of the Apprentice, and also Martha Stewart’s show.

    After I saw the first Stewart show, I knew it would bomb. For one thing, what’s in it for the winner? With Trump, you get to “run” one of his companies for a quarter-mil salary; all Martha offers is a chance to “work with me on a project”. And Stewart’s original tagline “you just don’t fit in” was mighty lame; no wonder she abandoned it after the first week. And what’s up with that ultra-creepy daughter of hers? Is she capable of putting two sentences together, or not?

    It is better than the godforsaken Richard Branson and Tommy Hilfinger shows.

    Last night’s Trump cliffhanger was a great one, but I’m a lot less impressed with Trump’s finalists this season than ever before. The whole cast of candidates was pretty incompetent this season; no wonder there were those mass-firings.

    Stewart’s crew was even lamer; none of her 3 finalists seem any more competent than the typical office receptionist.

    Trump’s ratings have fallen precipitously, and he rather ingraciously has intimated that it’s Martha Stewart’s fault (despite the fact Trump is executive producer of her show).

    I hope the finale is good (I always skip the second hour, where he heaps accolades on the winner, it’s always sleep-inducing). I also hope that the show hits its mark next season, because I’m actively looking for a reason to free up my Thursday nights again…

  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com/ Eric Berlin

    Yes uao, I’m not alone!

    You’re rather down on the whole Apprentice-verse for a person who’s watched both shows all season! I disagree on Martha’s daughters creepiness or lack of eloquence. I also think “you don’t fit in” lasted for a while.

    Very much disagree on quality of Trump’s finalists — they’re outstanding!

    Finally, I really liked Branson’s show, never saw Hillfiger.

  • http://freewayjam.blogspot.com uao

    Well, you are the first person I’ve heard say a nice thing about Stewart’s daughter. It’s hard to be eloquent though, when you generally speak in single word answers; compare her to either of Trump’s sidekicks. But to be fair, she’s gotten a little better the last couple of weeks.

    As for her tag line, she’s changed it a couple of times, and I do recall hearing “you don’t fit in” in a recent episode, but she mostly stuck with “I’ll just say goodbye”, which carries none of the force of the cut-the-crap “you’re fired!”

    And I never liked the letter-writing bit at the end.

    I’ll say Trump’s finalists this season are better than last season’s, although the whole 16-member crew seemed the weakest ever to me. Both of them have a lot on the ball, although they’ve both had some bonehead missteps (Randal more than Rebecca; gotta hand it to her for doing well with that broken foot). Not sure which one I’d prefer to win, although Rebecca maybe impresses me more.

    But, of course, I don’t watch these shows for meaning or depth; they’re diversions for winding down after a working day. So I forget a lot of stuff too…

  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com/ Eric Berlin

    I actually find myself sucked in by the ambition and the glamor of Apprentice-world even while I realize the transparent manipulation of EB, TV viewer, all the while! I like studying the business/social dynamics as well, find it very interesting stuff.

  • http://www.active.com JonB

    “and is the serious sort of worker bee you see rising in the ranks of companies every day”

    Quick inside insight. I have worked closely with Dawna. She’s way beyond the level of worker bee. She’s a strong leader who has built solid businesses in very tough industries. She’s a strong businessperson…hard for me to imagine her not winning (especially as her competition is a buffoon and a former porn star)

  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com/ Eric Berlin

    I meant “worker bee” in the sense that Dawna’s obviously very industrious, hard working, nose to the grindstone, etc.

    Do you have proof that Bethany is a former “porn star”? If not, I wouldn’t wave such accusations around so casually.

    That said, I’m staying with my prediction that Bethany will win — she has more spunk and creative fire than Dawna (who will likely do extremely well in another industry).

  • Room at the Top

    So much for inclusion! We all know Randall had the race card played in his favor (he was well qualified and black – who didn’t expect him to win?). Randall should have returned the affirmative action favor by including Rebecca -who was also highly qualified.

    Also, it was obvious that the Donald wanted to hire both of them, so Randall’s pettiness will come to hurt him. He’s simply not likeable any more. Anyone ever heard the phrase “There’s always room at the top?” Too bad Randall isn’t expansive enough to see that.

  • http://web.mit.edu MIT Brilliant

    OK OK…yeah, MIT does give PhD’s out to its students cause they are black…GIVE ME A BREAK. Some of you white folk just hate it that a Black Man got over on your lil white girl. Donald knew from the beginning that he wanted Randall (a Rhode Scholar, a PhD scholar from MIT, and a million dollar man) to boost the worth of the corporation. You hate on Randall for the same reason you get angry when you know your girl is looking at a Black man and lusting for him – White folk, you need to get over yourselves. Black folk were building pyramids and all sorts of amazing things all over the continent of Africa before Europeans raped their land; if they did all these things back then why do you second-guess their intelligence now. It is an urban myth that affirmative action is an excuse used by Black people to state their need for inclusion; “affirmative action” has become an excuse for White people to say, “oh, that’s why that Black person got an opportunity.” Randall’s a player – he came and he conquered. That is what Donald Trump has been doing for years and you all need to get over it.

  • Bliffle

    Well I couldn’t find any other TV spot to hang this review, and I’m not sure what the ‘fray’ includes, so here goes:

    PBS is showing a modern (what else?) version of Stravinskis “Rossignol” (Nightingale) with video comprised of live humans and various surreal CGI effects. It’s very good, the video catches the qualities of Stravinskis music well. As IS himself said: “It’s not enough to hear the music you must see it too”. And for the reluctant MTV-indoctrinated Young Male you just might find opera star Natalie Dessay hopping around in a brief dress easy on the eyes as well as the ears – I did.

    As luck would have it Netflix just delivered a DVD of old Bolshoi films of “Petrushka” and “Firebird” which are absolutely sensational, especially the Petrushka. We’ve all seen the popular Cossack leg dancing many times, but here they’ve added a flare that brings new excitement to the dance.

    So it looks like I’ll be having a Stravinski xmas. Too bad my wife doesn’t like Stravinski: I think her grandfather (a friend of Igors) ruined her by playing IS on the piano when he visited.

  • http://alienboysworld.blogspot.com/ Christopher Rose

    Bliffle: Please email me at editoratlarge AT gmail DoT com, just wanted to ask you something, nothing to stress on…

  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com/ Eric Berlin

    Bliffle — The Fray is quite large and inclusive indeed… However, there’s an open music thread (as there is an open comments thread for every section) where you can talk about whatever you like, whevever you like.

  • yellowchocolate

    i watched the last episode of the apprentice martha stewart, didn’t dawna win?