The Apprentice: How Trump and the economic crisis soured the reality TV phenomenon

It’s solely been two years since the final sequence of The Apprentice graced our TV screens, in late 2019. For apparent causes, it feels a hell of lots longer. Alan Sugar acknowledged as a lot in the introduction to this season’s first episode. “We’ve been through some tough times,” he declared, with the platitudinous optimism of a authorities press convention. “Slowly, things are getting better. The country’s fighting back… British business is fighting back.” But the place does that go away the present about enterprise? During the week, Sugar was ridiculed on social media after sending a message to Graham Norton, asking to seem on his Friday night time speak present to rejoice final week’s auspicious premiere of The Apprentice sequence 16. Twitter customers – hardbitten cynics all – selected to interpret this supply as some type of an obnoxious demand for publicity. Had the Amstrad mogul actually fallen as far as to beg for a PR handout? Now, at the time of writing, the viewing figures for final week’s premiere haven’t been launched. The actual fact that persons are questioning them attests to a mounting downside the present faces, nonetheless: the nation has stopped shopping for what The Apprentice is attempting to flog.

Time was when The Apprentice was a bona fide fixture of the British TV calendar. When it first aired in 2005, spun off from the American sequence of the similar title, the programme was one thing of a crossover hit, reeling in sceptics of reality TV. Abandoning the style’s standard rosters of sexy D-list celebrities, or attention-hungry 15-minutes-of-famers, this was a sequence foregrounding suited, booted younger professionals. “It’s actually a very interesting study of human nature,” individuals would say. It was scratching a lot the similar itch that might later be happy, for a lot of, by Succession: only a cadre of a dozen-odd Roy siblings, sniping and backstabbing for the approval of 1 Logan Sugar. (Though fortunately we’ve been spared the sight of Lord Sugar micturating on the boardroom flooring.) As the years glided by, nonetheless, The Apprentice inevitably misplaced its novelty. The color of the weekly duties modified, however more and more, it felt like annually introduced the similar oleaginous characters in several skins; the similar fatuous bickering; the similar pig-headed blunders. More than this, although: The Apprentice is grossly out of step with a world that’s slowly dropping its religion in the nice capitalist fable.

At its core, The Apprentice is an aspirational present, a festishistic paean to the trappings of enterprise tradition. Bleary assembly rooms and sterile suit-jackets are filmed with all the lustful passion of Federico Fellini capturing a lady’s breasts, or Quentin Tarantino a pair of toes. It presents an virtually bafflingly credulous deification of enterprise tradition – or, extra particularly, hustle tradition, the type of plucky, do-it-yourself gumption related to working class social mobility (which is, as The Apprentice reveals, typically appropriated by individuals from appreciable privilege). Despite all these skilled credentials – the fits, the six-figure-start-up backstories, the pervasive, unbearable company jargon – the contestants are at all times framed, to some extent, as fools. “You could do better,” the present appears to scream, as one candidate fluffs a presentation, or insists upon a horrible product design. This was at all times a part of its attraction. In 2022, nonetheless, with the majority of the nation struggling underneath a hostile financial system, the attract of The Apprentice looks like a perverse fantasy.

There’s one other consider all this that may’t be understated: the erstwhile host of the unique Apprentice, former US president Donald Trump. For many, Trump’s very historical past with the model is sufficient to sully it for good. But even for individuals who don’t immediately join the twice-impeached dynamo to the UK’s Sugar-coated spin-off, Trump’s rise to world prominence has dismantled the fallacy of the “deal-making hustler-magnate” earlier than our very eyes. “President Deals” embodied a lot of the values that The Apprentice appears to idolise – most essentially, the capability to show a buck – but in addition laid naked the limits of this ideology, its vacancy, its rank and merciless hypocrisies. Trump is capitalism’s ugly symptom and raison d’etre.

It may effectively be that by week 4 or 5 none of this may matter. Perhaps everybody will flock again to BBC One of their droves. The boardroom drama may lure individuals again in, or one skin-crawlingly watchable contestant. But then once more, perhaps not. The Apprentice could by no means return to its thriving, talked-about heyday. Even the wiliest salesperson can solely maintain their foot wedged in the door for therefore lengthy.  “You’re fired?” Perhaps. But fired up, I’m not so positive.

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