'Apprentice' lampoon may trump real one
October 28, 2004
BY PHIL ROSENTHAL TELEVISION CRITIC, Chicago Sun-Times
It's tense in the boardroom. Two would-be apprentices are defending their team's loss and, in reality-TV tradition, someone will be going home soon.
The tycoon across the table senses weakness and zeroes in for the kill, offering just a hint of his business acumen.
"I don't know if you're aware of this or not, but you're short," he says, cutting off one of the players at the knees. "Tall people have an advantage. ... Maybe because you're short, you've learned to make excuses for yourself. I don't know. But that's something you're going to have to overcome in life."
Nope. It's not much sillier than Donald Trump's "The Apprentice" has been for much of this season. Just enough.
It's Fox's "My Big Fat Obnoxious Boss," a prank version of "The Apprentice" in the mold (or some other petri-dish growth) of last season's nominal success, "My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance," a series that channeled greed and willingness to do anything on TV into mean-spirited entertainment.
Fox hasn't provided critics a full preview of "Boss," which makes its debut Nov. 7 on WFLD-Channel 32, just a highlight reel. So it's not clear that it really can tell its jokes well, let alone sustain them.
But the clips show off Chicago as a beautiful, bright, shiny city while showing the game's players -- some beautiful, none seemingly bright -- to be cocky but clueless dolts all too eager to play a game where winners find money in their bedding and losers are made to sleep in junkyards under the L tracks like vagrants.
Unlike "Fiance," in which a woman was persuaded to con her family and friends about a prospective marriage for the promise of prize money, unaware that she herself was also a pigeon as her partner in the hoax was really an actor, "Boss" looks to be a victimless crime. No family and friends are prey, and these men and women seem to have it coming.
They fancy themselves sharks in pursuit of a board position with the fictional Iocor corporation and a $250,000 grand prize (the only part of "Boss" that's real). They're not sharp enough, however, to balk when the billionaire they've never heard of with the corporation that doesn't exist shows off such prized possessions in his home as King Arthur's actual Excalibur sword and a living-room display of the first million dollars he ever earned.
On the other hand, N. Paul Todd (played by an actor Fox identifies as William August) has more plausible taste in interior design than Trump presents on NBC.
Business tips like "There's no future in the past" or "Your team has a virus; it's called losing" could come from either Trump or Todd, whose dismissal catchphrase is "Get the hell out of my office" rather than "You're fired."
The biggest difference between the two, hairstyles notwithstanding, may be Todd's penchant for using the word "crap," as in the assertion that a great salesman "can sell you a crap sandwich with a side of crap and a crapsicle for dessert" and that "if you can't tell someone that their idea is crap, that their performance sucks, that their approach is stupid, then you're dead in my business."
Not that this is bad counsel. Especially when you've been sent out to sell reusable toilet paper or an eco-friendly feminine hygiene product made of twigs and berries.
Trump in real life, meanwhile, is busy dashing off snarky notes to fellow billionaire Mark Cuban on the failure of his ABC series "The Benefactor" and telling the New York Post he's flattered by "Boss" because "at least they have the guts to admit that it's a knockoff" of Trump's "The Apprentice."
This fails to acknowledge that "Apprentice" has lost millions of viewers in its second season, partly because what happens in the show's challenges is getting overshadowed by what happens in players' postgame boardroom debriefings.
Trump fired one contestant based on a psychological diagnosis of her from other players, not one of whom was remotely qualified to make that call. He sent another player home because, having instructed her to whip her team into shape, she was thought to have whipped too much. One player was let go for not embracing a new TV gimmick that would have kept him protected.
The problem may be tied to casting. Too many of the "Apprentice" players this season seem (or seemed) to be more interested in using the show to become famous rather than to become a Trump acolyte, undercutting the premise.
Check out the Web site of recently fired "Apprentice" player Stacy Rotner (stacyrotner.com), for example, and you'll find her already offering her services as a public speaker for events, with topics such as "Dating Lessons Learned From 'The Apprentice' " and "Feistiness Counts." Ugh.
Someone needs to step in and set Trump and company straight.
You don't have to be an authentic billionaire to know that if you can't tell someone that their idea is crap, that their performance sucks, that their approach is stupid, then you're dead in the TV business.