Some reality shows content themselves with pharmaceutical representatives and bartender/model types who will mindlessly stab each other in the back while stating to anyone who will listen that they are not there to make friends. Only The Celebrity Apprentice, though, has the chutzpah and, dare I say, the diamond-encrusted huevos to raise those stakes to include celebrities defiantly not making friends with other celebrities. This edition of that most-revered enterprise has added a delightful twist in that, as our own Sean O’Neal points out, all of the celebrities have been chosen for their supertrainwreck craziness. If there's anything that people love in long-running reality shows, it's the trainwreck quotient. That statement may not, in fact, be true, but I think that it's gospel among reality TV producers. And, who knows? In the face of the Charlie Sheen meltdown, perhaps it's therapeutic for some celebrities to remind us that hey, they're batshit insane people, too! And they deserve our attention, at least for an hour or so every week.
So, if you’ve never seen the show, the gist of it is this: A handful of celebrities who have seen better days compete for the gruff and mercurial affection of one Donald J. Trump, perhaps better known as Our Future Overlord. We initially see The Donald while flanked by four Rockettes, all of whom receive applause for some reason, but when it comes to brass tacks, the chairs at His right and left hands are manned by His children Ivanka and Li’l Don, who act as their father’s emissaries to the areas of the world that are neither The Donald’s Darkened Boardroom nor Radio City Music Hall. Sixteen people in various proximities to fame live in The Donald’s mighty hotel in the sky and perform His task of the week. The Donald then invokes the right of primae noctis to have His way with the one He deems most weak, while the remainder lick their wounds and tell the person they hate most in the world at that moment that they really didn’t want to call him or her a stupid, egotistical, incompetent jackhole, but the producers insisted. Then, in a talking head interview, they reveal that the apology was fake. Pause for collective gasp, ominous music plays, a lonely cab rides off into the unwashed backwaters of Manhattan where the looming presence of The Donald cannot be felt, and then previews.
Let’s get to it! Or, in the immortal words of The Donald, “Well, it’s time to do it again.” Feel the excitement! The celebrities of this season are split into teams by gender because, to again quote His words, “The bottom line is men versus women: It’s always the best.” Who in their right mind could argue with that?
The men’s team, which will soon be known as Backbone, consists of:
- David Cassidy, who was a Partridge at one time,
- John Rich, who is the not-Big part of Big & Rich, who were or are the Hall & Oates of country music,
- Jose Canseco, who ripped the lid off of the use of steroids by baseball players,
- Lil Jon, because WHAT? (ok, I’ll stop with that right here),
- Mark McGrath, who has had some sort of career that’s completely escaped my attention to this point,
- Meat Loaf, who probably does not answer to “Mr. Loaf,”
- Richard Hatch, who is famous for being kind of a creep and for not paying taxes, and
- Gary Busey, who makes me very uncomfortable.
The women’s team, soon known as ASAP for reasons that La Toya Jackson cannot explain, is:
- Dionne Warwick, who causes me to date myself by thinking of The Psychic Friends Network whenever she is on-screen,
- Hope Dworaczyk, who was a Playmate of the Month,
- La Toya Jackson, who looks uncomfortably similar to her brother (Tito, I mean),
- Lisa Rinna, who was pretty good on Veronica Mars but has the most unfortunate lips,
- Marlee Matlin, who won an Oscar and is now on Celebrity Apprentice,
- NeNe Leakes, who appears on TV somewhere that those braver than I will tread,
- Niki Taylor, a supermodel, and
- Star Jones, who was on The View but is somehow not Whoopi Goldberg or that obnoxious blond lady from Survivor or Angie Jordan from 30 Rock.
One of the first things that we learn about this group is that Richard Hatch thinks that Penultimate would be a great name for one of two teams competing to win something. Another is that Lil Jon believes that The Donald’s Darkened Boardroom Of Mystery is actually haunted by the people who have been fired there. I sort of love him.
Hatch is the chosen project manager for Team Backbone. Star Jones is the project manager for Team ASAP, which really doesn’t stand for “as soon as possible.” Both teams are to operate a pizzeria for charity for a day. On the ASAP side, Rinna and Star Jones clash, although only mildly. I’m sure the producers will come up with some way to exacerbate that. On the Backbone side, Hatch proves himself an unbearable weasel penis (interesting sidebar: Gary Busey believes that a pinnacle is the same thing as a penis). Hatch belittles and bullies Cassidy a bit. Cassidy is a bit peeved about it, and even more so when he confronts Hatch about it, and the weasel penis gives him a non-apology. This will be important later. Although Star Jones does not know how to thank her friends, who offer her $40,000 for 40 pizzas, she is not afraid to call them back and talk them into taking only one pizza for that same $40,000.
So, the teams go at it, making pizzas, heckling and overcharging innocent bystanders, bringing in ringers to give away shocking amounts of money, shrieking at each other, making grandiose statements: y’know, behaving like third-string celebrities on a game show. Gary Busey gets right at my discomfort zone by acting like a man suffering permanent brain damage while the people around him laugh it off. Dionne Warwick runs a register almost exactly like a 70-year-old woman who has never run a register before. Most surprising of all, the Playmate is in almost no scenes.
Later in the Haunted Boardroom, The Donald reveals that Team ASAP smoked the dudes, raising more than twice their total. Canseco reveals himself to be obsessed with the truth, a claim that Hatch, less dubiously, also makes. The Donald attempts to get NeNe Leakes to stir up trouble, but she simply will not comply. Yet. The season is still young. Gary Busey does not know how to turn off his cell phone. He also believes that no one will know who “Richard” is unless he clarifies that he means “Hatch.” Jose Canseco hates Hatch so much that he might hurt him, which makes Li’l Don smile. This alone makes the show worth watching. Hatch has read a management book and throws around the term “efficiency”because he doesn’t know what it means. Hatch is convinced that everyone hates him because he is an awesome boss. I have worked with guys like Hatch before. Hatch calls Canseco dumb to his face more than once, because insulting a tremendous steroid-using athlete who mentions his devotion to truth and the underdog with every other breath might just be the strategy crazy enough to win this thing. Cassidy blows Hatch’s disrespect out of proportion and is somehow still right. The Donald utters the deathless words, “Meat Loaf, help us.” Hatch says, “I always speak the truth” and adds another “always” so that we’ll believe him a little extra. Hatch calls Cassidy a “little person” before pulling up every emasculating word his little weasel brain can muster, offering little “sorry if this offends you” comments all the while.
Sadly, though, this show is not about instant gratification. While it looks like Hatch is going to get his comeuppance, this is not the way of reality TV. With NeNe Leakes keeping her yap shut, this show cannot afford to waste a weaselly penultimate pinnacle like Richard Hatch because he is exactly the sort of guy who makes for good reality TV. I also suspect that The Donald might be unable to see through people who use the word “efficiency”incorrectly and make non-apologies while belittling a person, because I’ve worked with that guy before, and he tends to do well for himself. David Cassidy, however, spends his time in the boardroom doing the most amazing Gil Gunderson impression, which offends The Donald’s sense of manhood. Manhood is, of course, more important to The Donald than pizza or other things not currently covered with gold, so this doesn’t look so good for Ol’ Gil. The ultimate lesson, however, is that Jose Canseco might actually be Batman.
But let’s get back to the really important thing: the penultimate lesson. Although slightly less groundbreaking than Canseco’s penchant for shark repellent and batarangs, The Celebrity Apprentice does teach us that one cannot coast through semi- or demi-celebrity. It is something to be earned and fought for, even if one must wrest it from the likes of Gary Busey while he’s wearing a crazy red suit and shouting gibberish in the Manhattan streets. If anyone in this bunch is to earn the right to look his or her near-peers in the eye and boldly state that he or she is not appearing on Celebrity Apprentice with the goal of forming lasting friendships, well, then he or she must somehow—somehow!—prove crazier and more telegenic than a man who is obviously and professionally wrong in the head. May The Donald bless us all.