Did we like it?
A cheap, backstreet knock-off of the Apprentice forged in the dingy sweatshops of ITV lorded over by a fiscally pious megalomaniac who gets his kicks from mutilating the emotions of his charges as if they were ragged voodoo effigies rather than people.
What was good about it?
• Unintentional it may be, but the preening pomposity of some elements of the show are utterly hilarious. The base which houses all the businesses bears the grandiose appellation of Tycoon Tower (more laughable as it merely occupies an old warehouse tarted up with some MDF).
• The officious manner in which Peter Jones delivers a ticking-off. He drags the contestants out of Tycoon Tower and into the street just like a headmaster demanding that an unruly pupil come to his office for six of the best. The way in which it is done affords the candidate just enough time to emotionally crumble before they reach Peter in the street so he can stretch and bend their will to match his own.
• Even worse than ‘the street’ is ‘the pier’, a dark place to where Elizabeth was summoned and for one moment you believed Peter was going to fix manacles to her ankles and attach a sack of cement to her hair and boot her into the Thames. But it was much worse than that – ‘the pier’ is where Peter threatens to close down a candidate’s business. After much pleading and the obligatory tear-shot, Peter, with this episode’s imminent cliffhanger very much in mind, said to a weeping Elizabeth: “I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to think about it.” At which point she would probably rather have been told: “Tonight you sleep with the fish!”
What was bad about it?
• The power has gone straight to Peter Jones’s head. On Dragons’ Den he always comes across as likeable and astute but here he is a businessman Bono – dissatisfied with his success in his chosen field he now wants to be loved, too.
• So much is made of Jones’s alleged sacrifices he’s made for Tycoon. Sure, he has thrown initially £60,000 of his own money – but what price an hour’s free advertising on primetime ITV1?
• “I’ve got my money on the line, my reputation and my sanity,” he fretted. He has a fortune of about £200 million, not £20 in a Barclays current account; his reputation will only be enhanced in the murky world of business as they are as awestruck as the next soulless cadaver by anyone appearing on TV in whatever guise; and his sanity will hardly be stretched by 10 weeks of carefully staged, near-scripted television.
• At one point Peter, is sitting in his office moaning to nobody but the insignificant camera crew: “This is my own personal cash I’m investing in these businesses.” Cue camera close up to snare all that fevered emotion businessmen let slip from their pores like the throbbing ocean through a cracked dam. “And what if they just blow the lot?” Well, you’ll be down to your last £199m, Peter. Plus the couple of million you’ll earn in networking and goodwill from Tycoon.
• Many of the candidates have been immersed in the 20 Dullest Business Clichés seminars. “I can’t put it into words”, “It’s not an option to lose”, “Failure is not an option” were just a couple of phrases used by people you wished could have been flushed away with the rest of the evolutionary cul-de-sac known as the dinosaurs.
• Peter Jones’s advice seems primarily to juggle their emotions, as if savouring the pleasure of being able to prevent someone from sleeping so severe is his lacerating disparagement, as happened to Kathy and Helen and Justin. And only as an afterthought is the promotion of their business at the root of his criticism, with his constant reminders that he is contributing his own money to deflect the viewer from this observation.
• The weakest candidates – Tom and Elizabeth – appear to have been coaxed by the producers to become intoxicated by their own delusions of business grandeur to make their falls from grace that much more vicariously painful. Elizabeth has re-named herself ‘Elizabeth Gets-Things-Done’ Hackford, and can’t find a name for her vodka juice let alone sell it.
• Meanwhile 17-year-old Tom’s naivety is gloriously exposed for everyone to claim their pound of visual flesh at his discomfort when Peter vilified his Snap student newspaper – the ‘mock-up’ of which he’d produced without the aid of professional designer and editors, which gave a bristling Peter the chance to dismiss it as “something my 11-year-old daughter could do”. Sadly, this means that next week Tom is packed off to work for the repellent paparazzi vermin Darryn Lyons – even Faust got a better bargain from Mephistopheles.
• Justin has been similarly stereotyped, in his case as a ‘family man’ who can’t stand to be away from his wife, all with the ultimate aim of making him appear insipid and weak especially when contrasted against his macho former claim to fame of being ex-karate world champ and a bodyguard to Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson. Peter’s glowing egotism was probably visible from space when jittery Justin confessed to him that “your voice makes me go to pieces”.
• Peter’s manipulation of the candidates resembles Simon Cowell in slow motion, in the way in which he slammed Kathy and Helen’s initial pitch only to later praise them for their efforts. On the way back home on the train, they opened a bottle of Champagne and we bet Peter could taste every single succulent mouthful of their gushing gratitude at his capricious munificence.
• The word ‘inspirational’ announced its immediate retirement from the English language after it was used to describe Lauren’s hair extensions. In a press release the now-defunct adjective said: “For a couple of hundred years I have been proud to be one of the foremost synonyms to capture that moment of human genius when an idea springs forth from apparently nowhere. But now, having been used to describe cosmetic doggerel that helps women get long hair immediately rather than growing it, I feel I have no option other than to offer my resignation from the English language.”
• The candidates are encouraged to rub each others’ noses in the dirt by wordlessly howling at the top of their voice or sounding a blaring fire alarm siren whenever they make even 1p in sales. There’s also a nauseating aroma of the “I like him but…” in which candidates qualify their subsequent bitchiness with a prefix of faux mateyness. “I hope Ian doesn’t get any orders,” sneered Justin, before remembering that Ian was a ‘friend for life’. “In a nice kind of way,” he added.
• The bit in which each business has to pitch for the next £20,000 of Peter’s money was a mini-Dragons’ Den. The BBC should sue.
• When Peter called Tom from the office (“Quickly, I’m going home” – Translation: It’ll look really dramatic on TV when I drive off leaving you choking on my dust of fury) about a similar newspaper to Tom’s starting up, he bawled: “Tom, you do have competition and it’s run by one of the biggest, most respected editors this country has ever seen – Piers Morgan.” It was such an obsequious ode to Morgan and stank of ITV corporate branding to the point where if Tycoon had been scheduled to begin two weeks ago we imagine Peter would have appended his rant with: “– Piers Morgan, who will be on your screens next week as one of the star judges on ITV1’s fabulous new talent show Britain’s Got Talent.”