The Apprentice: season 13, episode 2 recap: "Panic Room"
A helicopter touches down pointlessly in the grounds of a flash country hotel, bearing Lord Sugar, somehow still the figurehead of a popular TV show despite lacking the most rudimentary ability to function as one. He's less the franchise's standard-bearer than a willing custodian, like a janitor who's swept the same building competently enough for 30 years: Oh, that's Alan, everyone says. Alan's all right.
Each team is to design the interior of a hotel room, he tells them. For the boys, Ross makes a pitch to be sub-PM, marking himself out as a beta male, the type who might order something other than steak or actually ask a woman about her interests on Tinder. This will never do. He is brow-beaten into full PM status. Bushra fronts up for the other lot.
There follow two sequences in which it's made plain why two of the candidates were selected for the show. Elizabeth is comically insistent on measuring and remeasuring everything in the room, which is perfectly sensible but done in a manner of haughty contempt for everyone around her. Who acts this way and expects anything other than discord as a result? Oh riiiiight, someone who wants to be on TV. Meanwhile Jeff is argumentative for no reason and oddly fixated on Tim Henman.
Themes are decided upon: Vitality's is "travel, with Britain as a destination" (groundbreaking for a British hotel), and Graphene's, after some last-minute speakerphone bickering, is golf. In a broom cupboard at the BBC, one of Sugar's joke-writers scribbles down "You've got a fairway to go to convince me" and takes the afternoon off.
James, who has the look of one of those eager SS recruits doing lunges in a PE kit, leads his subteam around Heal's to buy the furniture, where they make decisions as most men do in these situations: Is it a chair? Yes. Can you sit in it? Yes. Then I will buy this chair. Graphene do the same, but are hampered by Elizabeth's refusal to actually buy anything: it's all too expensive, so they basically kit the whole room out for a tenner, neglecting to pick up anything in which a guest is able to keep clothes, which is unlikely to scream luxury. I say this sitting at an Ikea kitchen table I've owned since 2004.
When it comes to keeping the cost down, Ross bungles the negotiation with the store manager for a bunch of decorative suitcases by being a little too aggressive, which displeases her. Sajan then gives her the soft-soap approach and she smilingly agrees to the price they wanted, much like in a point-and-click adventure game where a character won't speak to you anymore because you've been rude to them: walk around the block and come back to find the sprite reset and willing to be charmed.
My favourite elements are, as always, the ones that make no sense at all. Vitality spend the day at a design agency coming up with their vision. I've spent a few days at various creative agencies, and one thing you notice is that they tend not to just give you a room and leave you to it, instead taking the view that the reason you've shelled out thousands isn't just to keep them in ironic dungarees out of charitable goodwill, but because you expect them to provide their expertise. Not here, of course: they leave their unskilled clients to hack together a design and then enlist one worker bee with an iMac to drag and drop what they want onto the screen.
Not yet back in tune with it, it doesn't occur to me that they'll physically decorate the room themselves, but of course they will. Elizabeth has measured the room incorrectly (*trombone sound*) and Vitality's colour scheme is predictably ghastly, but hey, they get it done and no one dies.
They pitch to the hotel manager and an unforgiving design expert, who rightly points out that there is no furniture in either room off which one could practicably eat a meal. It strikes me that Ross and Bushra are both comparatively good PMs, having both been pretty effective at tuning out all the noise around them and making decisions, even if the decisions themselves weren't all that inspired. It's time to wake up Sugar for his weekly 20 minutes' work.
Lord Sugar pronounces "Graphene" with a bit of an Italian flourish, like he thinks it's a fancy foreign word. His joke-writer has scratched the fairway one so he says instead that their golf design is "full of holes". The emptiness of West Ham's trophy room comes in for a quip too, which Karren takes on the chin rather than threaten to stripe him in the traditional style.
Graphene should've spent more, is the main takeaway, and Vitality's artistic vision was lacking. This is a little unfair, because Sugar's no-nonsense persona dictates that he dismiss anything creative or artistic as "rubbish", which he does Sajan's beloved mood board, interrupting the not unreasonable argument that "art can be defined in different ways". No it fackin' can't, son. Fackin' pot of paint on a proper fackin' canvas, that's art. Later Sugar claims to be "a very creative person" himself, which you can't very well deny the inventor of the Amstrad E-m@iler.
By a process I don't really understand, the hotel didn't like either room very much, so it's left to Alan to decide, and he thinks he hated Graphene's effort less, so off they go to get their caricatures done by Gerald Scarfe, who was probably just as baffled as to why he was there as I was, but glad enough of the cheque.
Who got fired?
Sugar berates Vitality about their design, and it strikes me there's an odd production bungle in that he never actually visited the finished rooms so is just going by photos. Surely he could've managed that? He's got a helicopter and everything.
Ross brings back Jeff and SS James. In his defence, Jeff mentions Tim Henman again. What is it with him and Tim Henman? One painful "Crapadvisor" joke later, the finger lands on Jeff, which is unexpected, because he seemed like this year's go-to five-week dickhead: you keep him in because he riles everyone up, then ditch him when you want to make it look more serious. "Twenty years from now I'll be hosting The Apprentice," he argues from the back of the cab. "That's how successful I'll be." This is how we're measuring success now.
Next week: the teams must solve a series of brutal murders in a desolate Scandinavian setting, while haunted by a secret from their past.