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Watching the season premiere of “The Apprentice” gave me a sick, queasy feeling, and not just because of Donald Trump’s rampaging ego and hanger-on, lucky-sperm-club kids, although admittedly, that doesn’t help.

Actually, I’ve wanted the show to get back to its roots, “hiring” real people as opposed to its “Celebrity Apprentice” editions, which always seemed to defeat the whole premise of the show. But the recessionary twist this time around — featuring contestants who are either
Donald-trump-1 unemployed or underemployed — has the icky feel of “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?”

For those who don’t remember, that 1970 movie was about a Depression-era dance marathon, where the participants were desperately trying to win in order to make money. The same general principle applies here, with a “Win, or back to the unemployment line” undercurrent permeating the show.

NBC has been subtly and not-so-subtly mining this vein already in its reality fare, including the recent summer tryout (and washout) “Breakthrough With Tony Robbins,” which featured a couple threatened with foreclosure on their home.

As presented here — even allowing for the obvious showbiz that goes into assembling a reality show — it’s a distasteful approach to exploit the struggling economy as entertainment. Somewhat mindful of this element, Trump arranges a kind of consolation prize, but it’s not particularly convincing.

In a more general way, these two-hour episodes are so fat with filler they’re difficult to endure, with the boardroom bickering dragging on interminably. I know that stretching reality to two hours has worked well enough for series like “Dancing With the Stars” and “The Biggest Loser,” but the only way I can get through something like this is to use the DVD player (or TiVo) to excise some of the fact.

Then again, that kind of fits with the theme of this edition: Downsizing “The Apprentice.”