Solomon with his skellington. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice
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The return of kosher chicken and oud: The Apprentice blog series 10, episode 9

Running around and fetching things is this week’s hard-nosed business challenge. And there are some old favourites.

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

Read the episode 8 blog here.
 

This week’s “negotiating task” is the one veteran Apprentice viewers will have been most looking forward to. Because although it ostensibly is about shrewd haggling, it is in reality the highly enjoyable “find random unrelated items quickly, pointlessly eschewing public transport for black cabs in traffic” challenge, which often guarantees the series’ most idiotic moments.

And this one does not disappoint. We know it’s going to be a special episode because Alan Sugar actually turns up at the candidates’ house in the morning, rather than leading them somewhere unrelated to pose in two angry packs. This is because nothing says “bargaining is the backbone of business” like a little Labour lord pacing around the purple rug in your front room as you bounce down the stairs in full make-up and markedly unrumpled pyjamas.

Another sign that this episode will be a particular treat is that some of the items on the teams’ lists have deep poignancy in Apprentice history: kosher chicken – evoking the beautiful moment six years ago when self-proclaimed “good Jewish boy” Michael brought back a bird from a halal butcher instead – and oud, the “Arabian perfume” that confused the cocky Zee by turning out to be a mahogany stringed instrument.

Sinking to new depths. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice

Anyway. The teams choose their leaders: last week’s “nameless” Sanjay takes Summit, to show that he isn’t a mere passenger, and Daniel leads Tenacity, because the other team members hate him marginally less than the idea of a woman being in charge. Yes, poor Katie is stuck with the aggressive blunderer Daniel, overbearing manipulator Mark and bamboozled irrelevance Felipe for yet another task.

The two project managers have very different styles. Daniel wants very much to “smash this alive”, for example, whereas Sanjay wants his team to stay calmly in the office all morning, planning their route carefully for purchasing each item on the list. While this is sensible of Sanjay, it’s not really in the spirit of this task, which basically demands that contestants sit sweating in the back of a cab, crawling from Wimbledon to Tottenham, with only an A-Z and Yellow Pages to see them through.

The obligatory Jewish bit opens the mayhem, as a subtle soundtrack of Hava Nagila bounces along behind Daniel, who struts into a kosher butchers in Golders Green with a “Shalom” and a handshake. He bags the chicken, while Mark and Katie beg for a knackered-looking sink in a junkyard for a price their rival team swiftly beats them on, for an even more knackered-looking sink.

Roisin's diamond heist. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice

But it’s not all poultry and plumbing. Scallops are also required. “Fish and chip shops don’t sell scallops, do they?” asks Sanjay in his very own Peter Mandelson moment as they whizz by some fast-food places.

And even posher than that, diamonds must be purchased. This is where we all laugh incredulously at silly old Roisin because she starts ringing round independent jewellers, asking if they sell diamonds! Oh, Roisin. Such naiveté! As Karren Brady reminds us, with tired disdain, only “diamond dealers carry loose stones”.

It turns out Roisin’s shocking ignorance when it comes to diamond dealing doesn’t matter at all, as she manoeuvres the price of a diamond down from over £100 to £50. Agreeing to close the deal, the Hatton Garden trader informs her, “I like blonde women.” But surely not as much as he loves being completely ripped off and cheerily sexist on primetime television?

“You basically just stole that diamond off him,” giggles Sanjay as he and Roisin scramble off up the street with their cut-price stone.

A world away from Hatton Garden, Mark and Katie are wandering around a deserted council estate trying to find some oud. The oily rather than stringed kind this time. “It’s nothing like Sunderland,” says Katie, dazed. A man emerges from a stairwell with a tiny vial of oil. They buy it off him for £48. Good practice if ever Lord Sugar runs out of ideas and makes the candidates go drug dealing in broad daylight.

Bianca has a bone to pick with Solomon. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice

Solomon and Bianca are tasked with finding an anatomical skeleton. This ordeal is made tougher by the fact that Solomon can’t get his head round the pronunciation of anatomical, asking the shop-owner if they have any “antomological” models. They eventually find one, called Mike or Adam or something else standardly male only a scientist would be mad enough to name a skeleton, and eagerly purchase it after checking its teeth like a horse. Solomon throws the skellington over his soldiers, and they scamper off to find their next item.

The other team, guided by Felipe, buys a flatpack paper skeleton on the cheap. This leads to one of those immortal boardroom lines, like “I am the judge, jury and executioner” and “I like to see a lawyer punished” which could only ever make sense on The Apprentice or in a revenge tragedy:

“I asked you to get me a skeleton, you didn’t bring me a skeleton.”

The guide price and a fine is whacked onto the sorry box of flattened bones, and Daniel's team loses by about £50. 

So in an astute reference to The Law, Lord Sugar does an unorthodox third-person voice firing by telling Felipe: "Judge Sugar here says you're fired, Supreme Court Judge Sugar also agreed."

The question is, will Felipe take this decision all the way to European Court Judge Sugar?

Felipe plans his appeal. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice

Candidates to watch

Bianca

She's a bit negative, not enjoying Solomon playing happily with the skeleton, but she is quietly quite good.

Daniel

According to Felipe, this was "the time when Daniel became a man". Let's watch this closely, shall we?

Katie

When they shuffle the teams up next week, it's her chance to escape the awful bullish infighting in Team Tenacity.

 

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 senior writer at the New Statesman.

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Defining The Defenders: the long history of the superhero team-up

Netflix's new show draws on an established traditon of bringing together disparate characters.

Today Marvel’s The Defenders dropped worldwide. It’s the culmination of Marvel Studios’ interlinked series for Netflix, and all episodes will be available simultaneously as is the streaming services’ wont.

The Defenders, and the Netflix series that have preceded it, seem modelled on how the Marvel Cinematic Universe films have worked in multiplexes. At least superficially. Characters get their own solo films/series, which become increasingly interlinked over time, before all featuring together in an onscreen ‘team up’. Here, they combine against a threat greater than any they could plausibly win against on their own, sparring and generating alliances, friendships and even enmities in the process.

This structure, of course, is Marvel’s film and TV projects aping their source material. Marvel’s comics, and superhero comics more generally, have long relished the "team up" and the "super team". The use of this approach by Marvel’s other media ventures is intuitively right, allowing the mass audience for film and television to experience one of the specific pleasures of how superhero comics work in the characters’ new medium.

The concept of the super team goes back a long way. The Justice Society of America, from Marvel’s Distinguished Competition, is usually considered the first. They debuted in All-Star Comics #3 (1940) and the team consisted of the Flash (the Jay Garrick version, Flash TV fans), Green Lantern, Hawkman, and now lesser known characters like Hour-Man, the Sandman (not the Neil Gaiman one), the Atom, The Spectre and Doctor Fate. Within a few issues Wonder Woman would join: as secretary. Because it was the 1940s.

What’s interesting about this initial super team is that half of these characters were published by All-American Comics (who actually published All-Star) and half by DC Comics themselves, making this an inter-company crossover. (The companies would later merge). It also used to be claimed as the first example of characters created separately, and with no intention of them being connected, interacting. It isn’t. There are countless examples in the pulp fictions of the late nineteenth century, but the claim stood for so long because it felt right that the original super team should be the source of such meta-fictional innovation.

The Defenders were created much later in comics history and first appeared in 1971’s Marvel Feature #1. The team, though, had its origins in the "Titans Three" an informal grouping of heroes who appeared in a three part story serialised across Doctor Strange #183 (November 1969), Sub-Mariner #22 (February 1970), and The Incredible Hulk #126 (April 1970).

All three of those comics were written by Roy Thomas. Caught on the hop by the sudden cancellation of Doctor Strange (#183 was the final issue), he wrapped up ongoing plotlines from the cancelled comic in other series he scripted, bringing the now title-less Strange into those other series in the process. A couple more appearances of the group together followed, before the team was formally named in the aforementioned Marvel Feature #1.

Dr Strange. The Sub-Mariner. The Incredible Hulk. It’s quite likely that anyone reading this who is only familiar with the publicity for Netflix’s The Defenders would be surprised by that roster of headline characters. (And that’s assuming they’re even familiar with Namor the Sub-Mariner, a character of 1939 vintage who has not yet reached the MCU.) This is a radically different group to Daredevil, Jessica Jones (a character not even created until the 21st century), Luke Cage and Iron Fist, the stars of the current TV series. None of the telly team are characters a Marvel zombie would associate with The Defenders, although Iron Fist has been a very occasional member of the team’s roster, as has Luke Cage. (In which context, it’s unfortunate that Iron Fist has been the least liked of Netflix’s series, with a mere 17 per cent approval on Rotten Tomatoes.)

The complete absence of all three of the original Defenders from its television incarnation could be seen as an odd decision. Neither Benedict Cumberbatch’s Steven Strange nor Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner are expected to turn up, even for cameos. Marvel Studios has policed a strict division between its Netflix series and its cinematic outings, despite announcing them as being set in the same "continuity". The fourth "classic" Defender is even less likely to turn up. The Silver Surfer (who joined the team in 1972, less than a year after it was formed) is, due to some bad deal making in the 90s, off limits to the MCU. His film rights sit with Fox, who utilised him in the rightly all but forgotten Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007). 

One of the reasonably consistent features of previous incarnations of The Defenders is that the characters have generally faced mystical threats. They first teamed up to fight monsters from HP Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, and generally their antagonists have operated on that kind of scale. With Stephen Strange in the gang, that makes sense. You don’t need the sorcerer supreme to take out organised crime. But organised crime is largely what you’d expect Daredevil, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones and Iron Fist to take on, especially based on the Netflix versions of the characters. All four are "street-level" heroes, operating in New York, interacting with characters like murderous vigilante The Punisher and Kingpin of Crime Wilson Fisk. Perhaps splitting the difference, their team up series will see them take on The Hand. This is a ninja organisation, with mystical origins, that is nevertheless involved in organised crime and can be presented, as it has been so far for Netflix, within the context of crime stories.

Marvel’s Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada has defended The Defenders being The Defenders by pointing out that the original team are largely unknown outside comics fandom, and their name means nothing to the public at large. (Although they have, of course, heard of all three of its constituent members.) Of course, for some this might sensible provoke the question "Why use it then?" What is this series called The Defenders at all?

The (original) Defenders were seen as a "non-team", a phrase occasionally used in the pages of their appearances. There was something deconstructive about this kind of team up. It was the pairing of characters who were unsuited to working, even to appearing, together and who would really rather not. (They had, after all, been brought together in the first place simply because Roy Thomas happened to write their separate titles.) The stories told with the group in some ways challenged and confronted the cliches of the decades old form that had begun back in All-Star Comics #3.

The line-up, and tone, of Netflix’s Defenders more resembles that of another, deliberately slightly interrogative non-team, that of the short-lived Marvel Knights book of 2000-2001. This did share The Defenders somewhat abstract definition of "team", featuring characters who didn’t like each other and didn’t want to work together, albeit without any mystical element to how they were brought together. Marvel Knights was also, in theory, the flagship of the line of the same name, at the time edited by... Joe Quesada. Hmm.

In recent years, Marvel have frequently cheerfully remodelled their comics - the original medium for almost all their characters - in order to incorporate changes and innovations pioneered as part of their film and television projects. Remixing their characters and the way they are grouped together in response to the success of their screen empire. The Guardians of the Galaxy, for example, have become more prominent in the comics, while characters whose film rights lie with film companies other than Marvel’s own, such as the aforementioned Fantastic Four, have been pushed to the margins. Accordingly, this August sees the launch of a new The Defenders title, featuring the lineup of characters from the television series.

Some loyal comics readers see this a case of the tail wagging the dog. Others might like to take notice of the metaphor used by comics writer Grant Morrison in his 2011 book SuperGods: Our World In The Age Of The Superhero. There, Morrison argued that comic books, while the medium in which these characters were created, was essentially the discarded booster section of the rocket in which they had been fired into the public consciousness, reaching vastly greater audiences in the process. 

“That’s not The Defenders,” commented a friend of mine on seeing a publicity photograph for the series a few weeks ago. It is now, mate. It is now.