BBC shows TV3 just how it's done
The Apprentice UK (BBC1)The Apprentice: You’re Fired! (BBC2)
There's a very fine line between excellence and brilliance. It pains me a little to say it, but it's one that the BBC's The Apprentice, back last night for a sixth series, nudges over ahead of its TV3 counterpart every time.
Though TV3's version remains fine entertainment, there are worrying signs that it's already grown bloated and complacent.
Episodes are now 80 minutes long instead of the previous 60, while this year also saw the addition of a wholly unnecessary second spin-off show, The Apprentice at Home.
In contrast, the BBC1 version continues to be a lean, mean, humiliation machine. Maybe it's because Alan (Lord) Sugar and his team have been doing it longer, but they're experts at cherry-picking spectacularly self-deluding clowns.
You have to be a bit of a prize t*t to want to go on The Apprentice in the first place, yet this series' crop of "boys" (the "girls" were pretty much eclipsed in this first outing) could fill Katie Price's bra.
"There's absolutely nothing mediocre about me," boomed Chris, an investment banker (boo, hiss!) and this year's regulation rugby-playing, public school-educated toff.
When it comes to turning out precision-engineered tools, there's no beating the good old British class system.
"My first word wasn't 'Mummy', it was 'money'," offered Shibby, a surgeon-turned-businessman. You wouldn't let Shibby lick your envelopes, never mind go rooting through your innards.
Best of all, though, is Stuart, a sour-faced James Corden lookalike who calls himself "The Brand". His personal sales pitch was: "Everything I touch turns to sold."
This week's task was to make and sell sausages, so the 16 bozos trekked off to London's famous Smithfield meat market to haggle with seasoned cockney traders, who'd eat the lot of them for breakfast and then mop up the grease with bread.
Sausages at the ready (the boys', light on meat and heavy on rusk, looked like something you'd find snaking it's way out of a dog's bottom) the two teams hit the streets.
Stuart De Brand's aggressive sales technique wasn't so much in-your-face as down-your-throat. He inevitably ended up back in the boardroom with team leader Dan -- a clueless idiot who spent the whole day spraying the F-word in everyone's face but rarely removed his hands from his pockets to do anything approaching actual work -- and Alex, who looks unnervingly like a young Gordon Brown but talks a bit like Graham from Coronation Street.
Dan got fired, narrowly saving Stuart's neck, but Sugar promised: "I'm not going to put up with much more of him."
Queen of the hatchet Margaret Mountford has left The Apprentice to be replaced by Karren Brady, but there are also changes afoot over on follow-up programme The Apprentice: You're Fired!, where Dara O Briain has succeeded Adrian Chiles, who's currently floundering in the choppy waters of ITV breakfast television, as presenter.
If anything, O Briain -- whose world is now beginning to resemble a huge oyster with the letters 'BBC' stamped on it -- has sharpened the programme up and made it even more deliciously vicious than the mothership.
Aided and abetted by fellow comedian Jenny Eclair, Time Out editor Mark Frith and MasterChef's John Torode, O Briain shows the benefit of having a professional gagmeister at the helm. Anton Savage, who replaced Brendan O'Connor on TV3's You're Fired!, is a capable presenter -- but he's no funnyman.
If I had to choose between the two Apprentices, I know which one I'd keep and which one I'd fire.
The Apprentice UK *****
The Apprentice: You’re Fired! ****