To no one’s surprise, NBC’s “The New Celebrity Apprentice,” which was shot many moons ago but made its two-hour premiere Monday night, is very much like the old “Celebrity Apprentice” — dull and smarmy, a mid-2000s style of reality television that no longer interests anybody but political scientists and op-ed columnists, who will forever be scratching their heads to figure out how such a show could have played a part in making a president.
Donald Trump is no longer the host of the show — except, of course, for the nagging appearance of his name in the end credits as one of a handful of executive producers. As anyone in the TV biz could explain, it’s mainly a nominal credit — the sort of thing one gets in perpetuity so long as a show keeps airing, even if he’s not involved. A contract is a contract, and Hollywood is nothing if not meticulous about such things, as the recipients of checks for ancient, minuscule residual payments can attest. Still it’s an irritating reminder that the next president is impervious to unseemly appearances and prefers highly situational ethics. The “Apprentice” franchise, after all, remains one of his actual successes, thus it shall be forever touted.
And anyway, a Trump-less “Celebrity Apprentice” is really no different without him. Arnold Schwarzenegger has taken over Trump’s duties, which remain meager, hammy attempts to appear both fearsome and business-savvy. Simply sub out Trump’s “You’re fired” for Schwarzenegger’s “You’re terminated. Hasta la vista, baby” (honestly, who couldn’t have seen that coming?), and you’ve basically got the same tired show, now set in Los Angeles instead of New York.
Sixteen celebrity competitors — some of whom, like Boy George, Jon Lovitz and Vince Neil, escaped the Grim Reaper’s great 2016 harvest of their far more talented peers — were assembled at the show’s beginning, and, like schoolchildren, divided into teams by gender. Their tasks, as usual, involve the most elementary and unctuous forms of marketing and public relations. If they win, certain sums go to the charities of their choice, but who can believe that anymore, without a bona fide receipt?
In Monday’s double episode, Tyra Banks, who also acts this season as one of Schwarzenegger’s trusted advisers, asked the teams to come up with a marketing launch for her new line of easily-applied cosmetics. Finger-paints for bimbos seemed to be the point, and it was the men, whose team includes former NFL players Ricky Williams and Eric Dickerson, as well as former “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” stylist Carson Kressley, who won the challenge handily. At Schwarzenegger’s vast, black conference table, the women bickered halfheartedly, before the Governator terminated an allegedly famous YouTube host named Carrie something-or-other. (I’ve asked the Internet to prove to me that she was a celebrity to begin with; the little circle is still spinning.) “Carrie, go to the choppah,” Schwarzenegger commanded, pointing to the helipad just outside.
The next morning, the teams were assigned to come up with a jingle and a commercial for Trident gum, which, a visiting pair of executives explained, should emphasize “everyday smiles.” But on “Celebrity Apprentice,” there of course is no such thing as an everyday smile — only the desperate glimmer of costly veneers. Nevertheless, the celebs went to “work,” with the men coming up with an ad of smile-worthy videos accompanied by a tune co-written by Boy George and Vince Neil. (Neil started guzzling wine in the studio, an uncomfortable trigger for sober George.)
The women failed again, with an ad that featured Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi, 29 going on 53, sparring in a boxing ring with Laila Ali, to a tune written by early-’90s pop star Carnie Wilson about knocking them out with your smile. Called again before Schwarzenegger, the women fought a little more and hurled one of their own in the direction of the proverbial bus (if not exactly under it) before Wilson was terminated.
What plagues this version of “Celebrity Apprentice” is the utterly rote fashion with which it is being conducted, missing out on a prime opportunity to reinvent the show, change some of the rules and conventions — drain its swamp, so to speak, or even speak ill of its former occupant and his family.
It’s also entirely possible that it sat on the shelf too long. There ought to be fresh relevance here — such as Schwarzenegger’s refusal to endorse Trump’s campaign, or the promise that Warren Buffett (also not a fan) will drop by as an adviser in later episodes. Although I get the temptation to save the franchise by pretending Trump never existed, wouldn’t it be a much more interesting show if someone said something cutting about the old boss? Unless and until he’s angrily tweeting each week about how inferior this version is, what’s the point of keeping it on?