Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Goodbye to the lady in red

And so once more unto the breach, my friends, as we see the Apprentii battle it out for a 50/50 deal with "the nation's most demanding investor." Somewhere in a Leicestershire snug, Hilary Devey is nursing a pint of snakebite and adjusting her shoulderpads in disgust.

Tonight's instalment of The Apprentice starts with the candidates enjoying a much-needed morning off in their swanky Bayswater mansion. However, the fact that they're all playing ping pong makes it look more like a damp Thursday in a half-way house. Sure enough, the phone rings and they're told to meet Lord Sugar at an old cinema in Chiswick. So it's time to brush on the blusher and fire up the hair-straighteners. And that's just Azhar, who's busy posing with his shirt off and showcasing his impressively waxed chest.

The candidates are excited that the venue hints at the ever-popular advertising task. Instead, we discover that the cinema is now a reclaimed furniture shop. That's right folks, it's another 'buy some old tut and flog it to punters' task. "One man's junk is another man's treasure," explains Lord Sugar, as I lovingly caress my old Amstrad email phone.

In the same way that Sesame Street was always sponsored by a couple of letters and a number, tonight's Apprentice is brought to us by the word 'upcycling'. Jenna excitedly explains the concept, saying "If we buy a bin, we can funk it up to be a funky bin." And who doesn't love a funky bin?

The teams debate who should lead - Duane's keen to do it for the second week in a row, but his colleagues are less enthusiastic. Instead, Laura gets the gig and warns us about judging her for being an "attractive businesswoman." In my defence, that particular thought never crossed my mind. Over on the other team, the previously anonymous Tom has assumed the role of Project Manager - he's even parted his hair and pulled on his tweediest jacket to mark the occasion.

Katie, Stephen and Adam are sent out to an auction in Greenwich; not the ideal place to pick up a bargain, especially when they've only got £200 to play with. As Adam explains that he's not a miracle worker, his sub-team resort to ratching through the bins behind the auction house, picking up some discarded radiator racks and a coal shovel.

Elsewhere in London, Tom and the rest of his team are scouring a car boot sale for trashy treasures. As they continue to spout an endless stream of businessy bullshit, Nick's in danger of inhaling his own neck in disgust. He thinks that they should be looking for items that they can "sell to the young trendy with the gelled hair." He's nothing if not down with the kids.

Ricky Martin is eyeing up the legs of a table, figuring he can get a better deal on the parts. He's focusing on retro style, not realising that there's a gossamer-thin line between 'retro furniture' and 'old shit that no-one wants'. Still, Brick Lane's as good a place as any to make that negligible distinction.

Already installed in their vacant unit, Laura's team are going mad giving everything a 'shabby chic' look, and if they can't distress it, they're getting Gabrielle to paint a Union Jack on it. They might have loads of stock to 'upcycle', but that's not a problem for Tom's team, who have a huge unit, with just a tiny little display of crap in the middle of it. I don't know what they're complaining about, Tracey Emin could make a mint off that.

Still on the hunt for more products, Stephen tries haggling with an authentic 'Sarf Lahndan' trader, who tells them they've got a great deal, then confesses to us that the stuff they bought wasn't worth its own weight in scrap. Not to worry, Duane is sanguine about their haul, reminding us to "Never look a gifthorse in the eye."

Gabrielle's creative streak is out in full force, as she fuses bits and pieces of furniture together, the way Herbert West used to combine reanimated body parts. She's still going mad with the Union Jack motif, because she wants "a universal language on all our products." I'm not sure what language she means, but I don't need a translator to tell me that it means "fucking shit".

On the day of the big sale, Stephen's excited because he's dressed as a hipster. It's smart thinking - if they're not interested in your shop full of shite, just dazzle 'em with your polo-neck. As Tom stalks round his empty-looking unit singing the praises of a vintage hole punch, an American punter tells us that "everything in the shop was pretty special." Including the staff.

Scowling in the street, like a tramp with an empty cider can, Nick advises us on the difference between minimalism and emptiness. His pointless VT snippets are a case in point. Business may be brisk in Tom's shop, but Laura's team are struggling to sell anything. But that's because Jade is stalking the streets outside, threatening to cut people if they don't buy three pieces of occasional furniture.

Now here's a turn-up for the books. Nick is actually confessing that he got it wrong, apologising for misjudging Tom's team for their product selection. In the understatement of the millennium, he admits "I may have sneered a little, yesterday." May have? His lip actually curled over his eyebrow. The pressure's on for the last few sales, so as a hipster in a red bowtie haggles over 25p, Laura attempts to flog a coffee table using the unusual pitch of "see how much weight you're getting for a pound."

If you need any more proof that the recession is still biting, consider the fact that Lord Sugar has had to let the photogenic Frances go, and replace her with a new receptionist who sounds like Baron Greenback. As the forensic investigation gets underway, Laura tells Lord Sugar about how her team tried to get some ideas on the table. In fact, it was more about ideas for tables, including one made from an old valise, that collapsed the moment the customer got it out of the shop.

Asked to summarise his team's performance, Tom declares that he's delighted with them and doesn't have a bad word to say about anyone. As the irony-meter threatens to go off the scale, Karren swoops in and reveals that Laura's team overspent and lost the task. Lord Sugar demands an explanation about why they lost, but Nick Holzherr has already solved that mystery, explaining that they spent too much money, and didn't sell enough. We call those 'business smarts'.

As usual, the team discussion descends into a horrendous screeching match as everyone talks over each other. Jane gets hauled over the coals for her desperate and aggressive sales technique, which she redefines as 'overenthusiastic.' That's how convicted murderers get their sentences commuted to manslaughter. And it's all going well for her, as she gives a rousing defence of her role on the task. But she makes the fundamental error of saying "I'm not a market trader, I'm more comfortable in the business to business environment." She might as well have pissed in Lord Sugar's weeping fig. After a lacklustre bit of back and forth, it's quite clear where the finger is going to be pointing. He explains that Jane's been in the board room three times, but neglects to add that she's worn the same red fucking outfit too. It's no wonder she got canned, since Lord Sugar probably sees that suit every time he closes his eyes. I know I do.

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