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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Apprentice: The Complete First Season
The Apprentice: The Complete First Season
Universal // Unrated // August 24, 2004
List Price: $59.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Gil Jawetz | posted August 24, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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Reality TV on the whole is pretty weak: Artlessly directed pranks and gags aimed at the lowest common denomiator. (I'm not saying I've never indulged in the lesser reality shows, I'm just saying I'm not proud about it.) But if there's one guy who seems to really have it figured out it's Mark Burnett, creator of three of the better reality shows to air over the last few years, including fascinating culinary melodrama The Restaurant and the king of all reality shows, Survivor. Burnett's most obvious stamp on his work is his amazing use of editing to boil hundreds - even thousands - of hours of footage down to an image, a cut, an instance, that sums up everything his show is about. His other strong suit is his ability to draw compelling characters out of the endless parade of fame whores that flaunt their dubious wares in front of his cameras.

Of his three major shows, however, only one contains another character with the volume, intensity and attention-grabbing self-confidence to wrench the show out of Burnett's hands, and that's Donald Trump, the real-estate mogul/New York caricature who headlines The Apprentice. The premise of The Apprentice is, of course, that The Donald, as he's known by his "friends" (i.e. those who read about him in Page Six), is looking for some young turk to run one of his numerous splinter corps. With the help of Burnett, The Donald assembles a cast of 16 wannabe business mavens to cohabitate in a fancy suite at Trump Tower and compete in a series of tasks designed to see who can think on their feet the best, make the smartest decisions, lead the most effectively, and come out ahead. This is a format familiar from dozens of similar shows and The Apprentice doesn't necessarily do it much differently. But it's the two men running the show who make it special.

Having watched about the second half of this first season of The Apprentice when it aired on NBC I was expecting to scan through a bunch of episodes for this review basically to make sure the discs played and looked good. Instead I found myself once again drawn into the complex series of back-stabs, double-crosses, shell-games and bizarre behaviors that make up this season. While I'd trust very few of these applicants with the task of feeding my lizard, it's interesting to see how they mix playing at being businessmen and women with playing a reality show game. They're not totally dissimilar pursuits but they differ in some key ways.

(WARNING: THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPHS WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS. Do not read them if you want to watch The Apprentice without knowing some important events.)

If someone told you that one of the contestants of The Apprentice turns out to be a psychopath, after the first couple of episodes you'd probably think you had Sam pegged as the biggest wackjob. While it's true that Sam is uncomfortably insane (It's almost like letting John Hinkley Jr. participate in a game show called "Who Wants to Meet Jodie Foster?") no amount of couch potatoing prepared audiences for the hurricane that became saboteur Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth, a self-important former White House aide who condescended to everyone on the show including Trump and his viceroys. Sam may have started off the show in far left field, but his shenanigans (which endeared him only to a couple of the more humor equipped players) got him booted early. Omarosa managed to cling on to the show for an unbelievably long amount of time considering how hated she was and, in the end, really affected the outcome between the two far more deserving finalists.

Omarosa, possibly the best villain in the short history of reality TV, showed how far you could go with so little, but it's possible that this is one area where Burnett's hand lay heavy. Unlike Survivor, where the contestants choose who stays and who goes and achievement based shows like The Amazing Race, where you either come in last or you don't, the sole deciding factor of whether someone gets the boot here is the whim of The Donald and his celebrated "You're fired." It's entirely possible that Trump, with or without Burnett's direct input, made some decisions based on what would make good television. And Omarosa definitely made outstanding television.

Some of the earlier boots, however, were as despicable but without the compelling nastiness: Dr. David, a snotty MD/MBA brags about how during med school he realized that making money was more important than treating patients, and Jason, a slum lord from Detroit, talks about kicking tenants out because they're late with the rent (a reality of being a landlord, but save the glee for when the cameras aren't rolling, bub.) These two were dead-weight and get the heave-ho almost immediately.

Perhaps most amusing among the non-starters, however, is Tammy, a wildcard who asks potential clients during challenges embarrassing and insane questions (like if chef Rocco DiSpirito might rent a private jet and French villa to entertain a charity raffle winner at his own expense) since she starts out with one of the best ideas anyone has on the show: A sexually provocative ad campaign for an airline. And in the I-can't-tell-if-she's-good-or-bad category are Heidi and Katrina. Heidi, an abrasive loudmouth who loves dropping the F-bomb has moments of empathy (particularly when she gets some bad news from home and handles it like a trooper) but can also grate. And Katrina, a real estate broker with a collection of mini-skirts that Heather Locklear would find slutty, can be fun but, honey, if you have to stick your finger in someone's face and scream about what a good person you are there's got to be something wrong.

Of the better players, there are actually some pretty decent minds at work. I'm not saying they're brilliant every step of the way, but the players who eventually reach the final five are all pretty sharp, from sly country boy Troy, smart and canny Amy and dapper Kwame to affable salesman Nick and quick-thinking Bill. The end run of this show, unlike many others, finds the most capable players dominating and, for once, the best player does win.

One last pleasure in the cast worth mentioning is the interesting little love affair that develops between manly men Kwame and Troy. Troy's country boy charms and Kwame's urban slickness are an interesting match and their friendship (and more than a little homo-erotic closeness) really add a zing to the second half of the season. Watching Troy spot Kwame while he does basketball hoop pull-ups is one of the most oddly tender moments in any reality show I've seen. Way more intimate than anything that passes between Amy and Nick during their uncomfortably played-up dalliance.

(Ok, I'm done spoiling.)

As for the rest of the show's cast, there's nothing but quality. Trump's representatives Carolyn and George range from cranky to bemused at the antics of the contestants. They really provide the show with an air of dignity and humor. And Trump himself is hysterical, from his constant grandiose braggadocio to the sly self-deprecating remarks he throws in from time to time. His horrendously tacky lifestyle (which is like gold-plated nirvana to the greedy kids in the game) and his pompous demeanor make great TV, even if seemingly half his lines have been overdubbed to more blatantly spell out the rules of the game.

A quick mention needs to be made of the show's only other regular cast member: Robin. She's the secretary who sits outside the boardroom and tells the contestants when it's time to go in and find out who's fired. But her scant shots are obviously taken from a different location and cut into footage of the contestants sitting on a set. Plus her saucy way of reading the lines "Ok Mr. Trump. You can go in now" is just too damn funny. Every time she appears it's a laugh riot.

The DVD set replicates the show very well, including the "previously on" segments and the final parting words. One annoying omission is the replacement of the O'Jays' "For The Love of Money" in the opening credits with some ridiculous song. This is surely a rights issue, but it does hurt the show somewhat. But as a comprehensive viewing experience, through all 15 episodes, The Apprentice is solid entertainment. Watching the players' personalities and strategies come out through tasks ranging from selling lemonade to organizing huge events, is really enjoyable.

VIDEO:
The fullscreen video looks slightly overly sharp. This is on-the-go reality TV, so the image isn't always going to be perfect, but there's some additional sharpening at work here and it results in a somewhat degraded image. (Trump's closeups, of course, are slightly softer than everyone else's, so make of that what you will...)

AUDIO:
The Dolby Digital Stereo soundtrack is decent, if taxed at times by rough location source material and unbalanced voice recording. It's an acceptable audio track. There are also English, Spanish and French subtitles.

EXTRAS:
There's a pretty comprehensive list of extras on the final disc. While the screener disc did not feature the extras in final format and may not reflect the exact content, it did give a decent sense of the roughly two hours of bonus features that make up a really enjoyable package.

There's a behind-the-scenes segment that features Burnett and Trump talking about getting the show together. It includes a tour of the living suite when it was still raw space led by Trump. Revealingly, it shows that the boardroom set was inside the suite, which means that when The Donald said "It's either up to the suite or down to the street" he was half-fibbing. Also Burnett talks about how he got the idea for the show while watching ants swarming during a taping of Survivor. Interesting.

Another great extra is a highlight reel for each candidate that includes footage from the initial tape submitted to the show, auditions, and the show itself. There is some very interesting stuff in here. Additionally, submission tapes for each candidate are included (with some editing by the producers.) It's tough to know why some were chosen, with the half-assed tapes they submitted (Nick in particular) but some like Katrina, Amy and Kwame put together very funny pieces on their favorite subjects: Themselves.

Some of Trump's cliche-ridden advice snippets are compiled into one segment but more interesting is a sequence with advice from Carolyn and George, who didn't always get to fully voice their opinions during the show.

The complete parting words from all the fired contestants are included (they appear in truncated form during the season in the closing credits of each show) as do additional interviews with each candidate offering advice to future contestants.

A nice set of interviews with the two finalists is included, although a promised preview of the upcoming second season was not on the screener disc.

A couple of different segments with outtakes and segments that didn't make the final cut are included, as is a lame music video for the crappy theme song that appears on the DVD (but didn't appear in the broadcast.)

FINAL THOUGHTS:
The Apprentice is a suprisingly excellent show. With two strong personalities at the helm and a cast of type-As, there's no doubt that all the clashes were inevitable. This could make a good rental or the extra features might make it worth a purchase.

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