Donald Trump announces at the outset that the country is hurting and opts to walk instead of getting into his trademark limo. It’s one of those small gestures that remind the average guy just how obnoxious the ubiquitous mogul is, which is also oddly part of his charm. (Too bad the same panache didn’t pass to his kids, Ivanka and Donald Jr., who flank him as boardroom judges.)
As usual, the 14 participants test the boundaries of the word “celebrity,” mixing in athletes (Michael Johnson, Summer Sanders, Darryl Strawberry), wrestlers (Bill Goldberg, Maria Kanellis), comics (Carol Leifer, Sinbad), rockers (Cyndi Lauper, Bret Michaels), and a little eye candy (actress Holly Robinson Peete, Victoria’s Secret model Selita Ebanks).
They’re playing for charity, but of course, the game within the game is whether the process can jump-start somebody’s career — or in one case, make them more sympathetic on appeal. On the plus side, at least nobody’s as pathetic in this premiere as Andrew “Dice” Clay was in a previous edition.
The challenge includes having the gender-divided teams operate competing burger joints, trying to raise as much money as possible. And in one of those just-because moments, Trump calls Joan Rivers — who (ta-da!) happens to be with a camera crew when her phone rings — to help vet the two sides.
It’s all moderately entertaining for those willing to check their brain at the door, but so drawn out at two hours as to become numbing and repetitive. That’s especially true of the boardroom — once the show’s signature element — where the “Who should I fire?” hand-wringing drags on for more than a half-hour.
“The Apprentice” originally struck a nerve not only with its colorful mix of “characters” and Trump’s ego-driven bluster but the play-along element of contemplating how to operate and survive in the corporate jungle. Now, it’s just another exhibitionist platform for the notorious, barely known and pseudo-famous.
The bottom line is that NBC doesn’t presently have the luxury of saying “You’re fired” to a longtime employee still imbued with modest selling power, even if its “Apprentice,” at this point, is pretty much phoning it in.