Review – ‘Celebrity Apprentice’

The Apprentice was presumed dead until the threat of a Writers’ strike resulted in its return to NBC’s schedule with a twist: celebrities. It’s a twist which few American competition shows have really used in the past, although it is far more popular worldwide. It’s a last stretch towards relevance on the part of Donald Trump, and its quality is really not the question.

Cultural Learnings won’t be spending any considerable time on the series (We’ll pick up Survivor again before considering it), but I couldn’t ignore the potential hilarity which could follow from its premiere. I haven’t been able to get my snark on in a while, so I thought this might be a return to form of sorts.

Except that…it really isn’t. See, here’s the thing: Celebrity Apprentice is really no different than the normal Apprentice, except that the self-congratulatory mugging and parade of celebrities have become the focus. Trump introduced how he invited people who were commodities, but in reality he is really just attempting to save his own fading commodity.

The result is a series where Trump is the ultimate philanthropist and where the name of the game is celebrities arguing and bickering but ultimately coming together for the little people. And rather than being humorous, it’s just kind of bland – a few are objectionable enough to transcend into humor, but most are genuinely in this for good reason and it’s just sad to see them sit through this tripe.

The game is different, but not in an interesting way – Omarosa’s struggles emphasize both what is right (That Omarosa is picked on) and what is wrong (The complete lack of challenge) with the series. Her team agrees to let her be Project Manager because she has experience…but she has experience in winning small-scale tasks, not leveraging celebrity.

This becomes clear when the competition, a battle of hot dog stands, ultimately comes down to who is able to bring in the most big-name donors willing to spend $5,000 for a hot dog – considering this, it really isn’t a competition any more is it? While I know they’re fighting for charity here, the competition boiled down to Gene Simmons’ expansive rolodex as opposed to his ability to sell hot dogs. If this is a competition to see who has the most celebrity capital, then Omarosa is obviously going to lose pretty darn fast (Even if she’s a “reality star” as her nametag says).

It’s fine if that’s what the series is, and what Trump wants it to be, but it just isn’t entertaining television. Watching as the men spy in on the board room while Omarosa uses her board room experience to skewer the real celebrities is more sad than anything else – it demonstrates how far the game had devolved, and the huge gap between the show’s perceived philanthropy and this petty squabbling.

The series wasn’t without highlights, as Gene Simmons was certainly engaging and entertaining. However, when Piers Morgan is busy mugging for the camera, it’s hard to focus on the more positive elements of the series’ cast. For a show full of apparent personalities, we barely get a glimpse of many of them in favor of the loud sorts.

The departure of the former Playmate of the Year over Omarosa isn’t surprising, as I doubt Trump will let her go this early, but when the reason is that she didn’t pimp out her sugar daddy Hugh Hefner enough it just seems bizarre. It didn’t feel satisfying, it didn’t feel justified, it just felt perfunctory.

And there’s the strange scenario we find ourselves in – a reality competition series with celebrities that provides neither entertaining competition or anything even close to approximating reality. And, well, let’s not get into the “celebrity” status of some of these people. The philanthropy seems forced, the competition neutered, and the celebrities 50% obscure. I don’t see what makes this series engaging or entertaining – it is not objectionable enough for me to make fun of it, but too contradictory for me to respect its efforts. The result…sheer ambivalence. Which, to be honest, is maybe the greatest curse of all.

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