Culture > Television

'Round room'


Issue: "Barrier riffs," Feb. 10, 2007

For the last three years, The Apprentice (NBC, Sundays, 9:00 ET) has been about as good as it gets on television-but this isn't necessarily a compliment. Yes, television can educate, but nothing like a book. Yes, it can inspire, but nowhere near like the inside of an old church. If you know this about television, then you might actually be able to enjoy The Apprentice.

Every episode begins with a task for two competing teams, each composed of a handful of apprentice candidates, mostly 20- and 30-somethings with good skin, great hair, and some kind of credibility-like a J.D., or maybe their own company. Tasks range from selling carwashes to designing ad campaigns. The losing team must enter the boardroom, where Donald Trump "fires" someone.

A few details have changed for the show's sixth season. The venue has moved from New York City to sunny La-La Land, and the sun seems to do more than give everyone a tan. It also sheds a radiant glow on the show's patent unreality.

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The Apprentice made sense in New York, where Trump floated in his golden fog over the city he helped refashion. But in Los Angeles we see two McMansions overlooking some McCity, and it just seems, well, McWeird. Each week, the losing team must sleep outside, while the winning team beds down together en masse in a giant round room, summer-church-camp-style. Maybe the round room is a self-effacing metaphor for the entire industry of reality television: nowhere to hide, no private corners.

But that's the bait-and-switch: Pretend that the camera doesn't lie, that we're getting the raw, unfettered truth, when in reality, the manipulation of dialogue, the cueing of emotions through music, the sleight-of-hand editing is the very antithesis of raw. Just like pre-faded jeans and pre-tattered chinos and Trump's own delicate coiffure, reality TV sells only the pretense of authenticity. But this isn't news, and it doesn't mean it's not fun to look at.

Harrison Scott Key
Harrison Scott Key


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