September 22, 2005

TV: The Apprentice: Martha Stewart

As you may recall, I was not overly fond of Martha Stewart's new daytime talk show. I thought she was cold, abrasive, and domineering, all of which had me looking forward to her version of The Apprentice, a show on which cold, abrasive, and domineering might actually be assets.

So what does Martha do? She glides through week one of The Apprentice with charm, a sense of humor, cheerful spirits, and even a touch of warmth. She was barely recognizable as the same person. This Martha would never have scolded her mother for crying at her own birthday party.

The show itself isn't much changed from the Donald Trump version. Sixteen Martha wannabes arrive and are divided into two teams (Martha asked them to divide themselves into teams, a new twist) who compete in various business tasks; the winning team gets a reward and the losing team joins Martha in the conference room, where one of them will be fired.

Or not. The word "fired" never actually crosses Martha's lips. "One of you will be sent home," she says, or "one of you will be asked to leave." When the moment of truth arrives, rather than the brusque "you're fired" that Donald barks out each week, Martha gently tells the departing candidate, "You just don't fit in." And after he leaves, Martha whips out pen and fine stationery to write him a personalized farewell letter.

(No, really, she does; I know that sounds like a bad "How obsessed with propriety is Martha?" joke, but she actually writes a goodbye note.)

The first task certainly wasn't anything Donald would have assigned. The teams met Martha at the offices of Random House and were told to write a children's book, updating a classic fairy tale to be "relevant" to modern children. As is often the case on The Apprentice, it was clear in about ten minutes which team would win and who'd be going home; Team Matchstick was obviously in trouble from the time their leader decided that their Hansel & Gretel update would be written in verse. Page one included a stanza rhyming "Skittles" with "vittles;" good thinking, that -- choosing one word that will require expensive trademark fees and one word that the average six-year-old has never heard.

Is the show worth watching? Well, admittedly, the Apprentice shtick is starting to wear a bit thin, but if you're still enjoying Donald's version, or if you're a fan of Martha, this one should be fun, and it will be interesting to see whether Martha's tasks continue to be so different from Donald's. I'll keep watching, being an utter slut for reality TV, but I do wonder where the icy dominatrix of daytime has gone to, and I sort of hope she'll show up before The Apprentice comes to an end.

No comments: