Welcome to another look back at the past seven days in TV, where this week’s schedules are dominated by one particular business-related programme.
I’m talking of course about The Apprentice, which aired several specials this week as well as the regular show. Up first was The Final Five, where we learnt a little bit more about each of the semi-finalists and what had led them to apply for the show. We also heard from Nick and Karren, who evaluated their time in the process and the journey that each candidate had been on. Some of the information had been given to us throughout the series; for example the fact that Neil’s father died when he was young or that Luisa owned three businesses. Meanwhile the programme did nothing to ingratiate some contestants to me, most notably Jordan who seems to have led a privileged lifestyle while piggy-backing on the ideas of more talented people. But, The Final Five did change my mind about one particular candidate namely Francesca. I’ve felt that Fran had hidden in the back for a while and hadn’t been as keen to roll off her achievements as her colleagues. In fact, just like Luisa, Fran owns three businesses and spent a lot of time touring the cruise ships as a dancer as well as achieving impressive grades in her A-Levels. The programme was also full of little anecdotes such as the fact that Neil organised the majority of his wedding or that Luisa’s first experience of responsibility was caring for her horse. However, I did feel that the programme presented a fairly rose-tinted view of the candidates and didn’t delve into the murkier side of some of their pasts. In addition, the comments made by Nick and Karren suggested to me that Jordan had made it to the semi-final by the skin of his teeth and maybe he shouldn’t be there. And, after watching Wednesday’s semi-final programme it’s not hard to see why there was such a question mark over the diminutive toff.
This is as Jordan was completely torn apart by Lord Sugar’s advisers during the interview stage, creating some of the series’ most squirm-inducing moments in the process. As we learnt last week, Jordan’s business involved another partner, a fact that Lord Sugar wasn’t too happy about but wanted to investigate further before he fired him outright. After several of the interviewers suggested that he took credit for the ideas of others, Mike questioned Jordan over how involved he actually was in the business and why he wasn’t listed as one of the partners. But it was Claude who ripped Jordan to shreds as Lord Sugar’s grand inquisitor described him as a parasite and actually threw him out of the interview. Jordan wasn’t the only candidate to get a good grilling as Neil’s business plan was scrutinised throughout the episode. The online estate agency business was seen as a flawed concept by all four advisers but Neil remained steadfast in his opinions that it was a good plan. Neil should’ve really pulled out another idea when Mike basically told him he’d get to the final if he scrapped the estate agency, but Neil’s total belief in himself seemingly clouded his judgment. The girls fared slightly better, with Francesca only slipping up with her calculations and Luisa being criticised for her attitude. However, it was Leah who thrived the most as she even impressed Claude with her head for business and it seemed that her idea for a Botox clinic would certainly bring in big returns for Lord Sugar.
Lord Sugar appeared to have his joke book out as he consulted with the advisers. He was hesitant over Luisa’s bakery brand idea ‘I don’t want to put hundreds of thousands into hundreds and thousands’ while he wondered if investment in Francesca’s fitness studios would make him ‘Lord of the Dance.’ The first firing was pretty self-explanatory as Jordan was let go for essentially attempting to dupe Lord Sugar. Next to go was Neil, primarily because of his business plan rather than because of his record in the competition. Indeed, Neil’s firing was one of the most emotional moments in Apprentice history as Sugar admitted that he’d give Neil a job if there was one on the line. It appeared as if Neil was Sugar’s favourite candidate, but at the end of the day his Lordship had to stay true to the new format of the programme. It then seemed as if he struggled to pick between the three girls as he worried about Luisa’s character, the moral aspects of Leah’s business and whether Francesca’s dance studio idea was one that could be built upon. In the end it was Francesca who went, probably because Sugar hadn’t seen enough from her though I would’ve preferred her to have gone through over Luisa. I think it’s incredible that the final is an all-female one, especially considering how the girls started out, but I feel that these two ladies had impressive business plans. While there was another Apprentice special on Friday, the annual Why I Fired Them, there were really no more revelations to be had. But what Why I Fired them did prove was that this has been one of the best series of The Apprentice and I’m definitely looking forward to next week’s final.
As well as making her yearly return to The Apprentice, Margaret Mountford was reunited with her Apprentice cohort Nick Hewer for a new two-part series. Nick and Margaret – We All Pay Your Benefits, took the duo to Ipswich where they teamed up a group of tax-payers with a group of benefit claimants. The point of the programme was to discover whether or not all of the claimants deserved their benefits and if the tax payers felt that the claimants were getting too much money. It appears as if the programme wanted to paint the picture that the majority of the claimants were spending their money on luxuries. Liam, who had worked all the way through university, was now claiming jobseeker’s allowance while he found a job that suited his qualifications. However when hard-working carer Stevie looked through his bedroom she found a flatscreen TV, an up to date iPhone and a number of computers. Single mum Debbie was shocked to find a menagerie of pets in the home of claimant Kelly while recently unemployed Simon had the same feeling when he went to Chris and Tracy’s house. However, as they often do in these types of programmes, attitudes to the claimants changed. Simon learnt that Chris and Tracy still struggled to raise their three kids on the benefits they received each month and often had to rely on a food bank to feed their family. While Stevie saw another side to boisterous Liam when she learnt he was a volunteer, but even then she still wanted to try and get him a menial shop job. At the end of the episode all of the tax-payers, bar Simon, felt that the claimants they’d spend time with were receiving too much money and felt that they had the skills to work if they wanted to. As somebody who has experience of both being on and giving out benefits I feel I have a fairly unique perspective when it comes to this programme. I did feel that this programme did attempt to paint all of the claimants as scroungers, but I personally feel that the current benefits system is flawed. The highlight of the show was definitely Nick and Margaret who realised that every case is different and seemed genuinely interested in the people involved in the experiment. The problem was that they weren’t on screen constantly and the programme definitely lagged when they weren’t around. Despite this, I still found the show to be an interesting and well-executed concept, and I’m very interested to see what happens when the claimants go back to work.
Finally we come to a programme that has nothing at all to do with The Apprentice, in new BBC2 sitcom Count Arthur Strong. The comedy sees Michael Baker (Rory Kinnear) researching the life of his father, British entertainment legend Max Baker, for a new biography that he has been tasked with writing. Author Michael feels that his father as never there for him and so wants the biography to be somewhat of a hatchet job. Learning that Max was once a member of a double act, Michael tracks down his former comedy partner Count Arthur Strong (Steve Delaney), an eccentric personality who resents Max’s success. Michael feels that Arthur’s contribution to the book will paint his father as the selfish man that Michael believes him to be. However, it seems as if Arthur is prone to exaggeration and is more interesting in selling dodgy foot spas and conning the stressed owner of the local cafe. Michael later invites Arthur to Max’s memorial service, hoping that he will cause havoc, but in fact Arthur reveals what Max was really like to a stunned Michael. Previously a Radio 4 comedy, Count Arthur Strong has made the move to television with the help of Graham Linehan, best known for creating Father Ted and The IT Crowd. But I do wonder how much input Linehan actually had, as Count Arthur Strong doesn’t have his usual off-the-wall humour. I feel that the programme’s jokes definitely needed to be edited more, one involving a memory game seemed to go on forever, and it seems as if creator Steve Delaney is unwilling to cut out any of his material. In addition, I found the studio laughter to be over-bearing and I believe that the programme would’ve been better with the laughter cut out. Count Arthur Strong’s saving grace was Rory Kinnear who, as Michael, made an excellent straight man and added a layer of emotion to his portrayal of a man trying to discredit the name of the father who neglected him as a child. I honestly didn’t think much of the opening instalment of Count Arthur Strong, and am surprised that it received a second series, but I’m going to stick with it for a couple more episodes to see if it improves.
For more of my views on TV follow me on Twitter @mattstvbites