For me, “The Apprentice” jumped the shark when its celebrity edition became a regular part of the franchise instead of just a garnish, and Donald Trump jumped it when his addiction to fame prompted him to tease presidential aspirations — and evoke the ugly specter of birtherism regarding President Obama — when it was pretty clear he was just posturing.
Still, the return of “Celebrity Apprentice” on Feb. 19 is not without its guilty pleasures, thanks mostly to the casting of several very funny people, as well as some characters so silly the show could easily be retitled “Shit Celebrities and Near-Celebrities Say.” That said, the two-hour editions take everything that was best about the series and pump them up interminably, until those trips to the boardroom begin to feel more like a prison sentence than a form of entertainment.
Trump hasn’t helped the show, frankly, by turning his children — who add absolutely nothing to the proceedings — into his boardroom sidekicks, but with the mogul’s marital history, I can appreciate his desire to use NBC to help plan for their future. At least a guy known in part for his hair is looking out for his heirs.
At any rate, “Celebrity Apprentice” takes a backseat to nobody — including the bottom-feeding aspects of “Dancing With the Stars” — in dredging up celebs just wacky or crazy enough to yield drama. And it’s hard to top singer Aubrey O’Day throwing off a line like, “Out of all the women on this team, I have the most Twitter followers.”
What’s better this time around is having the likes of Penn Jillette and Adam Carolla to laugh along at the festivities, skewering the show’s inanities even as they participate in them. One can only hope they hang around for awhile, lest we be left with “American Idol” runner-up Clay Aiken fretting about not winning on another reality show.
As for Trump, his swaggering ego remains in full swing. At one point, for no particular reason, he paused to talk about how people love him on the street, and how of all the people there, he’s “the biggest star in the room by far.” Gee, all that’s missing is a magic mirror and some poisoned apples for Snow White.
Trump did keep his recent political bloviating in check during a preview of the opener, either recognizing (or perhaps reminded by NBC and the producers) there’s a time and place for everything. Besides, what would he have to talk about on “Fox and Friends” if he exhausted his best stuff here? (And incidentally, a Trump endorsement didn’t do much for Mitt Romney in Colorado, Missouri and Minnesota.)
With boardroom silliness dragging on nearly 30 actual minutes, “Celebrity Apprentice” ultimately feels like a show for people with too much time on their hands. Yet given its solid performance in the past and the huge hole NBC has to fill after “Sunday Night Football,” it’s also among the least of the network’s problems.
Even so, by the 10th or 12th time Trump asked, “Who would you fire?,” I was ready to fire him — and say goodbye to “Celebrity Apprentice.”
Oh, and in case Trump decides to come after me, let me state unequivocally not only was I born in the U.S., I can prove it.