All-American Apprentice. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice
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"A metaphor for success and the American Dream": The Apprentice blog series 10, episode 7

Candidates hop on a plane to the city that never... invests.

WARNING: This blog is for people watching The Apprentice. Contains spoilers!

Read the episode 6 blog here.
 

Opening to some triumphant brass and percussion, scanning a forest of parachute-sized Star-Spangled Banners curled around golden flagposts, the camera eventually lands on a video link to Alan Sugar. A special fanfare heralds the onscreen grand-high grouch and his “urgent business elsewhere”. We meet him, flanked by real-life Karren and Nick, in a marble jungle somewhere in the American Embassy on Grosvenor Square.

The candidates are off to break America. To break its slick, corporate heart with their cobbled-together money-losing schemes, that is.

Cleverly, Sugar decides only a few are allowed tickets to New York, which leads to the kind of passive-aggressiveness that is a core principle of this programme: conversing snippily across an awkward line of people in the back of a cab. “I’m so excited,” sings Felipe, his jolly little eyes creasing in anticipation of the bright lights of the Big Apple. “We can’t all go,” Katie smiles tightly.

Product placement. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice

Oh, I nearly forgot to mention – as if it matters – the task, which is to launch a new soft drink in America, where I think we’d all agree there is an untapped market for such products. Those poor guys’ throats are just a parched wasteland, aren’t they? Never once touched by so much as a trickle of cool, vaguely radioactive, Mountain Dew.

“I work in advertising,” lies Mark, becoming project manager of Team Tenacity and securing his seat on the plane. “I’m the obvious choice to go the US,” says Lauren, which somehow works too. They are joined, merrily and redundantly, by Felipe.

On the Summit side, James yaps, “I think Americans would love me,” which is probably true but a highly dubious accolade nonetheless. So he gets to go, along with project manager and nemesis Bianca ­– Solomon is the amicable sidekick, a teenager remaining desperately upbeat on holiday with rowing parents.

Those poor souls who aren’t allowed to go to New York, and have to stay behind slumming it in their laid-on Hampstead mansion instead, are in charge of the creative side of things: standing awkwardly in a lab tasting essence of dragon fruit and then packaging the ensuing juice.

Daniel, whose imagination when it comes to women stretches to them probably enjoying being asked out by text over a chicken salad, is left to do the imagining bit in this task too. Why? He decides “Aqua Fusion” is a great name, which sounds like one of those stressful waterparks off the motorway, and then designs the bottle with a logo in yellow nineties bubble writing, peppered with some cartoon fruit pictures off Clipart. That pink Um Bongo hippo is going to want royalties.

Proudly adding the finishing touches, Daniel probably adds a drop-shadow in the height of his PowerPoint-inspired creativity. I wonder if the business plan he submits to Lord Sugar has that little wisecracking animated paperclip on it somewhere.

“Explosion of water and pineapple,” is his description over the phone to the US-based teammates. “I will back you 100 per cent,” says Mark, which sounds like he missed out the words “stab” and “in the”. But it’s hard to tell. The transatlantic line is crackly.

Net contribution. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice

Roisin and Sanjay, the two calmest contestants ever to glide through seven episodes of The Apprentice without asserting impossible percentages through gritted teeth, make up Team Summit’s London HQ. They have a very sensible fruit-tasting experience in the laboratory, a suitably cool design session with a man wearing his polo shirt buttoned up to the top who has an edgy office cat, and come up with “Big Dawg”. It’s not as bad as it sounds, considering in real life you can buy “Yoga Bunny Detox” or “Red Bull” depending on your mood. “This isn’t a dog campaign,” Bianca reminds us.

What ensues is that spinecringing horrorshow when Apprentice teams have to direct advertisements (anyone remember “that’s not the English sparkling wine I ordered. IT’S DISGUSTING” and “Friendship… and Flowers” from previous years? Not to mention “Octi-Kleen”).

Felipe creates a lovely happy all-American family situation, by casting a 28-year-old lawyer from Blackpool as a lovelorn teenage girl and a boy who can’t catch as a basketball fan. The other team directs a soulless series of men talking awkwardly to camera calling themselves “Big Dawgs” with little conviction to a soundtrack of disappointed silence. “It’s a metaphor for success and the American Dream,” explains Bianca, as the camera homes in on Solomon, squinting in a polyester pink shirt.

Casting and squinting like pros. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice

Before presenting their drinks to trade experts, who merely make silly remarks about phallic symbols and generally shame the reputation of the squeaky-clean soft drinks industry, the candidates bumble along to Times Square. Here, they see their products lit up for every tourist in the city who is craning their neck and standing in someone’s way to see. “This world is as big as our oyster – as big as we wanna be,” is James’ input. So around 3-14 inches. Felipe weeps.

Cry for the camera. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice

Back in the boardroom, we hear the second mention of erectile dysfunction this series – perhaps an unfortunate symptom of this show’s old and tired format? – as, like those smutty industry insiders, Sugar sees Big Dawg’s bone logo as something rather less refreshing. He also finds Team Summit’s commercial “a complete and utter joke.” But they win anyway, and the candidates skip off to do some other weird treat that you would only find on those lesser-known voucher websites that pretend to be Groupon. I can’t remember what it is now.

There follows a harrowing boardroom scene where two awful, ubersensitive males bulldoze through anything anyone else is saying, savagely tear chunks out of each other to the point where it’s screamingly obvious Sugar should just fire them both on the spot, and so he lets Lauren go. “My instinct and gut feeling,” is his explanation that sort of renders the entire task obsolete. Which has been my gut feeling all along.

 

Candidates to watch
 

Katie

How is she getting away with doing absolutely nothing? Perhaps by doing fractionally more than Felipe?

Roisin

Masterfully disparaging of James and also expertly at once sympathetic and despairing towards Sanjay: “Sanjay, if you listen to anything James says then you’re a fool.”

James

I don’t think The Apprentice will be as big as his oyster for much longer.

I'll be blogging The Apprentice each week. Click here to follow it. Read my blog on the previous episode here. The show will air weekly on Wednesday evenings at 9pm on BBC One. Check back for the next instalments every Thursday morning.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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The lessons of Finding Dory are commendable, but why make a children's film so complicated?

Pixar's latest animation, a sequel to Finding Nemo, gives forgetful fish Dory a lead. Plus: Jason Bourne.

Amnesia is a concern for the heroes of two blockbuster sequels – the Pixar animation Finding Dory and the espionage thriller Jason Bourne. The condition extends to the film-makers, who have forgotten much of what made the original movies so appealing. In fairness, the 2003 Finding Nemo lacked the emotional complexity of top-drawer Pixar. But its story of an anxious clownfish combing the ocean for his lost son served as a neat rebuke to worrywart parents, and it featured one enduring character: the Pacific blue tang Dory. Her short-term memory loss left her in a state of carefree enchantment perfectly expressed by Ellen DeGeneres, whose voice calls to mind a rubber ball thrilled afresh by each new bounce.

Now Dory has a movie of her own, in which she goes in search of the parents from whom she was estranged as an infant. Many of the previous picture’s fish chip in to help, but the script’s argument for inclusivity and diversity is made most persuasively by Dory’s new allies. Hank is a tomato-red octopus who can’t bear to be touched, while Becky, a frizz-haired loon, and Gerald, a bullied sea lion, have learning difficulties that leave them vulnerable to mockery by their fellow creatures. Heroism originates here with the apparently disadvantaged, whose differences ultimately prove to be no sort of disadvantage at all.

The message is commendable, so it’s unfortunate that the execution is so complicated. Incident is stacked upon incident, most clumsily during a final half-hour in which the sea creatures take chaotically to the roads. When there are lulls in the action, these are filled too often by homilies and life lessons that demand no spelling out.

Quality control remains high in the area of animation. From the velvety anemone beneath a lattice of rippling sunlight to the pink-tinted ocean surface at dusk, it is clear that nature needs to up its game to keep ahead of Pixar. The biggest gasps should be reserved for Hank’s extraordinary chameleonic powers, which allow him to blend into a laboratory wall and to mimic a potted plant or a handrail. Impersonating a baby in its stroller, he uses his Mr Tickle arms to propel himself at high speed like a wheelchair-basketball champ tearing up the court. In a film that largely plays it safe, Hank brings a jolt of anarchic danger.

The breakneck editing and neck-breaking violence of the Bourne series, about a brainwashed CIA killing machine who gradually recovers his memory and goes rogue, has been the biggest influence on action cinema since the advent of the car chase. There have been only three instalments until now (four if you count the spin-off The Bourne Legacy) but their style is so ubiquitous it feels as if there’s one Bourne every minute. The latest outing reunites two leading players who swore they were done with the franchise: the actor Matt Damon, looking as bulky and implacable as a tank, and Paul Greengrass, the British director who whipped up a storm in films two and three but consigns it to a teacup this time around.

Rarely has such a fast-paced film felt so weary and resigned. Christopher Rouse’s screenplay throws into the usual paranoid, dystopian, NSA-fearing mix a Zuckerberg-style social media guru (Riz Ahmed) in cahoots with the craggy CIA overlord (Tommy Lee Jones) hunting Bourne. There is also a bright CIA underling (Alicia Vikander) experiencing vague pangs of conscience from her operations hub where po-faced automatons tap endlessly on keyboards; it’s like a Kraftwerk gig without the tunes.

The film makes gestures towards political topicality. But whether it’s riots in Greece or the ongoing tension between security and privacy, everything is reduced to the level of window dressing while Bourne crashes motorbikes, plummets from the tops of buildings and doles out upper cuts as though he were passing around Tic Tacs.

Just once it would be nice to have some character detail or a line of dialogue that went beyond “Suspect turning left”, or the series catchphrase: “You don’t have any idea who you’re dealing with!” Bourne himself is a dead end, dramatically speaking; he has recovered his memory now but his personality and inner conflict have been wiped clean. When he isn’t fighting, he has nothing to do except go woozy with flashbacks and generally outfox the CIA. He should try hiding in the voluminous bags beneath Tommy Lee Jones’s eyes – they’d never find him there.

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue