Archives for the month of: July, 2011

This week’s “Show Me the Funny” managed to improve the balance between “tasks” and performance, with more than half of the show focussing on the acts delivering their “newly written” material to the Scots Guards regiment (“one of the toughest in the British Army” as host Jason Manford intones ominously – they all say that) and the subsequent judges opinions.

The acts are driven to Catterick’s massive military base and delivered to the tender mercies of Sergeant Major Tam McEwan, a dour-faced ginger Scot who promises that “you will be integrated fully into C company” (at least I think that’s what he says). Cole’s already in Tam’s sights for his suspicious possession of a “man bag”, and the numerous to camera confessions by Cole that he used to be a “loose cannon” and has “pissed a lot of people off” don’t bode well.

The comics are split into teams of three (which seem to randomly change) to do two days of “gruelling” military activities, with the three impressing the Scots Guards most getting to pick that all important running order. There’s none comedy footage of them having to change into their uniforms (Sgt Mjr Tam: “No flappin about like a turd in the Thames”), the men having to shave (Dan Mitchell seems to get away with leaving a coy bumfluff gingery Hitler moustache in situ) and getting used to their barracks. Prince Abdi’s already majorly unhappy (“I just wanna go home”). Cole decides to plan an hilarious “wheeze”

Manford reveals a further twist to this supposed horror gig; that most of the audience will be from Glasgow, and that the UN listed Scotland as the most violent country in the EU. So, Cole’s fairly fortunate that his jolly jape of cutting the arse out of his combats only ends up with Sgt Major Tam summoning “That man wi his fucking arse hanging out” to his office for a dressing down over Cole’s deliberate and laugh-free “trooser” malfunction (“I thought it would cheer you up” “It’s not cheered me up… it’s pissed me off.” “er sorry”). Ellie reveals to the others that Cole asked if she had a spare thong he could wear (“I politely declined”), whilst Cole worries with crushing hindsight about getting the shit heckled out of him at the Thursday night gig.

Pat, Stuart and Rudi are put through a prolonged work out (sit-ups, press-ups, and in Pat’s case throwing up) in the gym. Rudi’s not doing bad for a 47 year old grand-dad (“I’ve got a verukah, I shouldn’t be doing this!”), although Tiffany notices that he’s mastered the technique of only actually doing any exercise when the drill sergeant’s looking in his direction. The edit crowbars in the fact that Rudi has been doing army gigs in war-torn areas for over four years, and shows him telling the camera that he will probably use that past experience. Lazy Rudi the edit tells us.

The gang get turns at driving a Warrior Armoured Fighting vehicle up slopes, which makes Prince Abdi nervous. “Cheer up” someone tells him when he manages the scary ascent. He looks infinitely sad.

Finally the three teams have to do a “log race”, which fortunately is not some toilet based tomfoolery, but involves them carrying a large log up a steep hill an arbitrary number of times. The blue team consists of Dan, Alfy and Pat, who reckons they don’t have a chance of winning (“We wouldn’t make the 2012 Olympics unless it was doughnut chasing”).  Poor Dan’s struggling with uphill log carrying, falling at the very first. Dan’s a likeable charity worker who freely admits that he’s had “bad experiences working in front of squaddies. They just want to shout through the entire set”. But plucky limping Dan continues with the race (as do the rest of the team), despite being forced to do three laps in punishment for falling over or being Welsh. So the blue team finish last, but the winning red team manage to finish without any of the comics still standing (Rudi, Tiffany and Ellie having deserted in favour of a nice rest), and the second placed yellow team managed to lose an unmotivated Prince Abdi (“The military isn’t for me… I’ve done my time for today). Dan’s rewarded for his persistence by getting to ride back on the turret of the Warrior (“I might get a lollipop as well”) and confides that the experience should help him prepare his set during the following writing day as he now understands what soldiers go through. Cole plans to write a set about his prank (the one that pissed Sgt Mjr Tam off). Good luck with that then.

Today’s guest judge is lovely Bob Mortimer, the gig being in Catterick and him having written a show with the same name.

Dan, Pat and Alfy unsurprisingly are awarded the chance to choose the running order and somewhat cruelly put Prince Abdi on to open (Pat’s logic is that the audience might be nicer at that stage. This logic is insane). They choose Rudi for the “headline” spot which actually makes more sense, although they think they’ll be leaving him with the audience at their rowdiest.

Poor Abdi nervously shadow boxes in preparation for his spot of doom, which he chooses to start with an attempt at a Weedgie accent. Watching in the green room, Pat puts his head in his hands (presumably any viewers do too). Somehow he survives this section and gets the good-natured audience on side, only to regale them with a long shaggy dog story about a bloke coming to his hotel room and asking for “Maria”, insisting that it’s her house, and then inviting Prince Abdi out for a guitar serenaded drink. I’m furiously trying to work out the payoff for this story, I mean it must be worth it, right? Nope, there isn’t a punchline and Prince Abdi finishes his set, leaving a befuddled,but not yet violent audience in his wake. Maybe Pat had a point with the running order.

Ellie’s next and predictably is met by a barrage of wolf whistles, which she converts to applause by comparing officers in the army to Louis Walsh on the X Factor (“Very pleased to be there, but not exactly sure what’s going on”). Um ok.

Dan gets a big cheer from those assembled, and it’s obvious that Sgt Mjr Tam likes him. He delivers a confident and funny Rhod Gilbert-esque rant about his log carrying failure, and I especially love him for using the phrases “We were in the testostrazone” and “we flew like bullets… made of men”. The squaddies love him too, with one tough looking guy declaring that Dan is indeed “the man”, and he strides off stage looking about ten feet tall.

The crowd are getting restless and all we get to see of Alfy is him dealing with a heckle. Tiffany follows, nervous as she’s never done an all squaddie gig. She calms down the audience (“at ease soldiers.. don’t unload your clip early sunshine”) before hitting them with a good gag about the regiments Latin motto.

The mood’s getting uglier as Pat takes the stage, and he ends up expertly troubleshooting a veritable heckle-fest, much to Cole’s annoyance (“He’s winding them up!”). Stuart manages to get in a gag about the troops trying to impress their resident gay clerk when they realise they’re not on his shag-list (“Do you wanna see how many lunges I can do?” which gets a great response and Stuart comes off relieved.

It’s a good thing Cole isn’t wearing his non comedy combats, as he’s crapping himself when he starts his set amidst boos. One stealth heckle gets huge laughs and Cole turns snappily on the culprit moaning “Cheers! That fucking helps a treat!” (I don’t think that particularly helps either). He proceeds to rip the piss out of Sgt Mjr Tam and the Aussie Captain working at Catterick on a “cultural exchange” (“We get to learn how to wrestle crocodiles and punch women!” – gets good laughs), before broaching trooser-gate to the non-amusement of Sgt Mjr Tam. He ends with the flourish of throwing his cut out combat arse cheeks into the audience so that Sgt Mjr Tam and Aussie Captain can sniff them when they’re feeling lonely. The rest of the set could have been genius, but that came across as the gesture of an arrogant tit. “Awkward” concludes MC Manford. “Kill him” advises Sgt Mjr Tam worryingly. Cole meanwhile thinks he’s “pulled them round and had a decent show”. That’s probably what happened, but the ending of the set was still mental.

Rudi goes on last and shows his experience with his very good opening gag (“Where are all the officers? Down at the front? That must be the only time you see them on the front-line”) which brings the house down. He builds on this success with some mild-mannered (but presumably acceptable) racism (“Any brothers in the house? I can see your teeth, I know you’re there man!”) before resorting to some tried and tested old material about Jamaican airlines which all gets laughs, but Kate and Alan look troubled about it.

So it’s judging time and they all enjoyed Dan (although Bob bizarrely compares him to Peter Kay). Bob says Prince Abdi’s nerves made him feel nervous. “He made me angry and irritated” retorts Kate. Bob also thinks Ellie’s looks are a problem, and states that he preferred Tiffany’s set, with it’s nicely personalised motto joke, whilst he found Cole “arrogant”.  Alan’s concerned about the connotations (which he dare not mention) of Rudi’s “I can see your teeth” line. “If you wanted to be nasty about Rudi, you’d say he was a great stag night comedian” Bob says nicely (That’s one for the poster, Rudi!).

The four people called to meet the judges are Cole, Rudi, Prince Abdi and Dan, and it’s no surprise that those who go in first for the sugar laden praise are Dan and Rudi. Dan’s still grinning happily at having had a good army gig (“I loved it. They were a great bunch of lads”), but Bob tempers his praise with advice to slow down and further develop good ideas (er Bob, it is a five minute set).

Alan congratulates Rudi for “storming it”, but chastises him for using tried and trusted gags from his previous life. Bob agrees “You shouldn’t be relying on your greatest hits”. Rudi’s taken aback at criticism (“I’m up against really talented kids”), but Kate’s having none of it and points out that with his experience he could do the time-slot standing on his head, “but you’re quite lazy, and smug”. “Smug??!!”, Rudi recoils in shock. “You coast on the audience going for you” Kate explains “and you should bloody well stop it”.

Cole and Prince Abdi are called for a bollocking and potential dismissal. Cole’s unrepentant about his performance and blames the rowdy audience for his initial nerves (Bob reckons Cole’s energy eventually kept the crowd at bay), but Alan’s still not sure about Cole’s “confrontational finish”.

Prince Abdi’s quizzed by Alan on where the story came from. Apparently it’s all true. “But nothing FUNNY happened” complains Alan. Prince Abdi admits that when it all happened he thought “THIS is gonna be gold”. See, he is funny! Kate’s still appalled at him even attempting another accent (“A bit of crap is still too much crap in 5 minutes”).

Cole thinks he can still win this competition despite Kate telling him “You have all the personal warmth of a Nile crocodile” (Very good parents Nile crocs). Even though Kate thinks Cole’s “a bit of an arse” she still votes for him to stay.

Poor Prince Abdi, everyone’s telling him he’s a nice, likeable guy, which means of course he’s doomed, and everyone votes for him to leave. I hope he gets his job back if he wants it, and keeps gigging.

Cole returns to the other comics at the barracks, having been told by Alan that he’s lucky.

Next week the comics perform to a bunch of schoolkids. Let’s hope Cole doesn’t cut the front out of his gym knickers. My tips to do well to an audience of kids are Pat, Stuart and Tiffany.

ITV have finally started showing selected sets from the comics taking part (noticeably not from the ones evicted so far, but I guess that would ruin the magic of the reality narrative). You can see them via http://www.itv.com/showmethefunny/shows/

Billed by ITV as “Survival of The Funniest”, the format promised taking 10 comedians out of their comfort zone and forcing them to write 5 minutes of brand new material to suit specific audiences, but the first episode of “Show Me The Funny” proved frustrating and at times confusing, until the excellent final 20 minutes.

After the usual babble about the fear factor and the potential massive rewards, we’re thrown straight into this week’s situation, which is performing a gig in my home city of Liverpool (a tough gig for many as Brendan Burns wonderfully attests). But, affable host Jason Manford points out, there’s a catch. This gig will be to an audience of (gasp!) all Scouse women! And they’re not all lezzas or something. I honestly can’t engage with the tension Manford tries to heap on this scenario, having had a lovely time at gigs with women audiences.

The first half hour splits the acts into pairs and sets them various tasks so they can get to know the city and it’s womenfolk and perhaps generate some material. Sadly this means we don’t properly meet each act, as they’re interacting with their task partner. The tasks aren’t particularly engaging or illuminating. The blokes are forced to either work in Herbert’s hair salon (a Liverpool institution apparently) or find women called Michelle (a contrived exercise in honour of The Beatles’ most contrived song) and the girls, nicely paired together (presumably the producers think that their period jokes will synchronise) to set up a blind date (the participants of which we neither get to meet or care about). The winners of the task will get to decide the running order, which Manford reminds us regularly is often the “make or break” factor to how well a set can go.

“The world has been laughing at Scousers for generations” states Manford. Not laughing “with” of course. That could never happen. We meet the judges; flopsy haired ex tramp botherer Alan Davies, the formidable comedy reviewer Kate Copstick (“Most people think I’m a bitch.. I’d like to think I’m being honest”). Tarby’s roped in for extra chummy Scouse ho-ho-ing as this week’s guest judge.

We first meet the show’s “oldest acts”, Rudi Lickwood and Alfie Moore. Rudi started out as an Eddy Murphy impersonator, but wants to break away from all that, although Alfie cajoles him into doing a trademark “Hurrrr hurrrr” Murphy laugh. Alfie is a part-time comedian, his day job being a sergeant with Humberside police force (“If you say it in a deep enough voice it sounds like Homicide”). They work a shift at the hair salon, under the guidance of Herbert, who comes across like Bucks Fizz’s scouse granddad, but has a quick banter with his customers. Rudi’s keen to know if there’s any local rivalries (er, Manchester) and asks if people from the Wirral are “posh”. Herbert gives him a run down of the subtle differences between the posh parts of the Wirral and Birkenhead. “People from the Wirral pick their noses using a knife and fork”. “And do people from Birkenhead just use a spoon?” asks Rudi. “No, they just pick their noses” laughs Herbert, rinsing his hapless customers locks. (They actually use rusty machetes).

Tiffany Stephenson, an up and coming circuit regular, is paired with relative newcomer to comedy and ex-model Ellie Taylor, and the voice-over points out that “Men outnumber women by ten to one in the comedy industry” (this show isn’t taking leaps and bounds to challenge that then). Ellie asks Billy the Taxi driver whether he has any tips on what to joke about in Liverpool. Billy’s annoyed by “young lads walkin round with their ‘ands down their trackie bottoms, playing with their brains”. Ellie’s hoping that her experience as an Essex woman and butt of similar jokes to Scouse women can help her write material (“I’m sure I can er link something about it”).

Next part-time comic Dan Mitchell and professional Stuart Goldsmith (an ex street performer) have to find “Michelles”. We don’t see much, but Dan comes across as self deprecating and likeable and Stuart is a natural at communicating with crowds (of course). Circuit headliner and regular MC and warm-up (plus all round lovely chap) Pat Monahan is teamed up with Cole Parker on the same task elsewhere. Pat, as I suspected, rushes around delightedly greeting people and doling out hugs (he just does this all the time, it’s not an affectation). It seems to wind Cole up (according to the edit) and he tries to present himself as a more intellectual (and parental) counterpoint to Monahan’s “excited toddler”. “He hasn’t got on my tits yet, surprisingly” Cole observes after 5 minutes. A couple of minutes later Cole storms off in a faux disgusted sulk at Monahan’s upbeat friendliness.

Finally we meet Prince Abdi (who’s quit his job as a primary school teacher to do this show) and Ignacio Lopez, a half Welsh half Spanish waiter who thinks he’s Don Juan deMarco. “I get the laughs and afterwards I get the women too” boasts Ignacio. Even if it’s a joke it makes him come across as an enormous bell end. Prince Abdi likes to tell everybody he’s from London and how brilliant that is. That’s going to go down well in Liverpool. He even manages to ruffle Herbert the hairdresser by insisting that “London has the best customer service in the world”. A mortified Herbert predicts a rude awakening for Prince Abdi, who will be playing his first ever gig in Liverpool.

The comedians get a writing day (“24hrs to come up with 5min of material for tomorrow’s gig”), which really shouldn’t be too hard as long as they put the hours in. Stuart, bless him, just tests out his gags on the street, which should give him an edge. Ignacio sits around smugly, declaring that in a room full of women “I will play to my strengths, which is looking good” (they might take pity on him I guess).

At the venue, a converted chapel, Ellie and Tiffany work out the running order on the blackboard putting Ellie third in the first section and Tiffany fourth (on right after the interval – personally I’d have wimped out and gone 5th after the crowd had hopefully gotten warmed up again, but what do I know?).

Cole gets the shift of death and opens, starting by playing his single dad card (and getting some sympathetic “ahhs”), and hitting them with a good, but potentially harsh gag about sticking around to care for his child as his dad pointed out “You never know when you might need a kidney”. He seems strangely uncomfortable for a confident pro act, but I guess the pressure of getting things right for the show has affected him. Dan Mitchell’s next, and sadly we don’t get to see much of his set, but I enjoy the shambling and slightly bemused schtick (“Have we got any women in tonight?”) and the crowd seem to as well. Ellie’s now crapping herself in the dressing room, and to be honest I’m not proud of myself for predicting that the room will go cold on her for her looks. To her credit she doesn’t screw it by mentioning her modelling and does a well thought out set that gets the Scouse ladies on side. The other comics watch on the green room monitor. “She’s putting experienced comics to shame here! This is brilliant!” enthuses Pat. Cole doesn’t look quite so happy. Ellie even gets a belly laugh from Tarby with her adaptation of Billy the Taxi Driver’s comment “All the fellers here have one cold hand… that’s why you see them walking around with one cold hand down their trousers.” It’s not comedy genius but it gets a terrific response. Well done that girl, it’s true that sometimes fear is the spur. “They like women” Tiffany breathes a sigh of relief, before performing a solid and well received set. Funny that.

Ignacio’s clearly soiling his shorts, but he tries to ooze confidence to camera before he goes on (“This room is purpose built for me”). Oh dear. Meanwhile Stuart’s ripping it up with his well delivered sharp gags (I like the bit about waking up after a night out in Liverpool with 5 new best mates, a godchild and a promise to “have anyone killed up to the value of £60”) and Tarby’s wringing out his seat.

Ignacio blows it from the start by losing the courage of his convictions in the lothario character and fluffing lines (“Some of you I haven’t slept with er”). Worse he apologises to the audience and mildly acknowledges things are going badly. If things are going badly you either change what you’re doing and get on with it or you very clearly acknowledge that you’re fucking up – you don’t mumble “Ahh – I’ll go on”. Next he disastrously attempts a Scouse accent and enacts an exchange where the punchline is him asking a Scouse man if he has “a face like Wayne Rooney as some ironic comment on inbreeding”. Oh dear, there’s open confusion from the younger audience members and silent closed eyes prayers of delivery from the older Scouse matriarchs. I really feel for poor pale, perspiring, stuttering Ignacio, there’s nothing like a gig going poorly to get you panicking and wittering lots of random and crucially unfunny non sequitors. He’s got a decent idea of a character there (and it being a character act didn’t help on this occasion), but he utterly lost it, and should have prepared better.

So next is Prince Abdi. Following a comedy death shouldn’t be too hard, given he’s been watching on the monitor and knows that bad scouse accents don’t go down very well here. Right?…. Abdi man, what the fuck are you doing?! He starts by actually announcing in a poor Scouse accent that he will do this gig in a poor Scouse accent. If Ignacio had a car crash, Prince Abdi’s more of a Kamikaze pilot as he goes down in hideous silent flames. It’s so hard to watch, especially as a comedy promoter. Two deaths in a row nearly reduces me to tears. Poor old Prince returns to a silent dressing room. “Normally people say well done” he says glumly (rather than doing the decent thing and hiding in a corner). Tiffany and Ellie do the nice thing and say well done. Everyone else looks at something interesting on the ceiling.

Rudi’s up next and his experience shows. He gets big laughs by shamelessly nicking Herbert’s nose picking line (but come on stereotypers, stealing from a Scouser is funny right?). Alfie’s also reliably confident and gets a big laugh from Tarby for his “I come from Scunthorpe… that’s my best joke” gag.

Finally, Tiffany and Ellie have cruelly put Pat Monahan last, surely in an attempt to tempt him to over-run, but whilst he nobly sticks to his 5 minutes, it’s going to be tough for such a naturally bouncy and interactive performer to stick to material rather than lapsing into ad-libbing (which he’s capable of doing brilliantly). He duly nicks a woman’s sunglasses and after some fooling around goes to return them too energetically and drops them. It’s hilarious, like he’s turning into an Irish Iranian Geordie Tommy Cooper.

Next we go to the judges analysis, which could become the meat and bones of this show, especially if Kate Copstick continues to punch at this weight. She declares Ignacio and Prince Abdi “disastrous” (Tarby tries to be nice and suggests that Ignacio merely picked the wrong set). Everyone agrees that Cole seemed nervous and they’re impressed with Stuart and Ellie. They choose four acts to bring in to face the judges praise or wrath. I like this bit, it’s mean, as even the acts picked for praise worry that they may get the boot and any acts not picked are foolishly relieved, thinking they’ve gotten away with it. They choose Ellie, Prince Abdi, Stuart and Ignacio, and the other acts are told they’re safe and get to swan off to their hotel.

The judges room is at the top of a steep spiral staircase and Ellie and Stuart are called in first whilst the others sweat outside. Kate honestly tells Ellie “I hated you when you came on” because she was tall and good looking and did the girly “hair tucky thing”. In Copstick world there is no excuse for hair fiddling in women (I do it on the stage all the time – ooops) and all feminine hair must be back combed into Dame Edna Everage submission. “And then” continues Kate, “you were fantastic”. Get that on all your publicity now Ellie! Tarby commends Ellie’s “tremendous personality” but he’s clearly most taken with Stuart’s “smashing” delivery.

Next Prince Abdi and Ignacio get called in. Kate’s scathing in her disapproval of both (“You knew what the gig was…you clearly thought you could do it… maybe you need to practice some more”. Alan’s gently befuddled by both of them doing the dodgy accent (“Some people in comedy just need to work harder”). Kate declares Ignacio’s set “a low speed car crash” (another poster quote surely?) and they unanimously agree to send the unfortunate Welsh Spaniard packing (Alan: “You have to sort out who you are”. Prince Abdi gets a reprieve as Kate thinks that even though he had the more painful comedy death, he’s more capable of growing and Tarby wants to see him again.

Ignacio leaves, a broken man, but proves that he has a definite funny bone when Prince Abdi hugs him and asks if he’s OK at the top of the stairs. “I’ll feel better when I’ve kicked you down the stairs” grimaces Ignacio. I hope he continues to perform, as there’s potential there, and hopefully the experience will ultimately inspire him to develop the character and the set.

Prince Abdi however gets to greet the others at the hotel. “You were lucky son” chirrups Alfie. That’s what I love about the comedy world. The support.

I’ll be tuning in next week, and praying that the faffing around with the tasks is at least edited so it feels like part of the same programme. People watching “Show Me The Funny” shouldn’t misinterpret the title – you can get easy and regular laughs by watching a polished stand-up telly show or DVD. The second half of this “fish out of water” show (despite the obvious reality show “narrative”editing) goes some way to demonstrating the blood, sweat, tears, many failures and small victories that go into the honed and polished acts you can tune to on TV or at live gigs all over the country (including those of many of the participants).

So after three months of posturing, dodgy food preparation, bad maths and general business ineptitude, we’re down to the final four candidates, who get a phone call giving them two whole days to tighten up their business plans for interrogation. So they should all be innovative and air tight after all that time. Shouldn’t they?

 

Helen’s confident about her spanking new “slightly risky” idea. Susan thinks she has the “strong natural initiative to do a business”, if not to actually talk sense. Jim’s started reminding me of an evil version of Beaker from the Muppets, so I’ve started zoning out and just watching his mouth flapping about when he speaks. Tom’s still a bouncy puppy, enthusing about his “excellent and fantastic idea”. He hugs his business plan to his busom; “It’s just a bit of paper at the moment, but it will hopefully become a huge organisation one day” he gushes wistfully.

 

The candidates assemble after 48 hours outside New Broad Street House, handling over their folders of dreams to Karren and Nick before heading in to face Lord Sugar’s chosen “Four top Business Experts”. Sadly this year there’s no beardy bored Borden from Viglen, but there’s new blood in the form of Mike Soutar the Freemium magazine (is he related to Sugar or something?) a cut-price Alan Hanson figure. He’s joined by Matthew Riley, the 2007 New Entrepreneur of The Year (he must have been sitting on his arse since 2007, as I’m not exactly sure what he does now, although Wikipedia reveals he leads communications company “Daisy Group”), who is like a chubbier English version of Mike. Thankfully attack bulldog Claude Littner is back on savaging duty, as is the fragrant Margaret Mountford.

 

Susan still can’t turn off the volume on her internal dialogue and annoys the others with her constant wittering “This is it! Everything we’ve worked for so far! My heart’s pounding! How about yours?” She’s greeted with an icy stare from Helen who drones smugly “If you don’t know your own life and business plan then you’re in trouble.”

 

Claude fires a warning cannon at Tom. “It’s fair to say that your career is floundering at the moment” he declares. “What made you think that?” asks Tom nervously. “Your CV really” slams Claude.

 

Mike accuses Jim of having an “application packed with clichés, buzzwords and blarney”. “Do you have difficulty expressing yourself succinctly?” he asks dourly. “I’m working on that.” Jim says meekly (but succinctly) after some thought.

 

Matthew has a the strange and irritating method of asking candidates (well at least the female ones) to “just stand behind that chair”, before making them pretend they’re in an elevator going up from the ground floor to the penthouse and have to use the ride time to quickly pitch their business plan (my plan would be to arrange for fatal elevator accidents for anyone using this technique). He makes the mistake of trying it on Susan who is clearly imagining she’s in one of the Petronas towers and waffles on about her natural skin care range for ages. “I see no end to this business” she gibbers excitedly. We see no end to this pitch. “This is going to be a long interview” sighs Matthew. Your fault chum.

 

Mike’s baffled by the fact that Tom says his business plan is to save organisations lost money in sickness absenteeism by making them buy magic chairs which diagnose and fix employees’ back problems, and yet the plan doesn’t mention the word “chair” once. “I believe it talks about devices” Tom elucidates. I prefer “device” to “chair”. Tom is so sci-fi.

 

Margaret rightly pulls Jim up for actually putting his crap horse related analogy (“I’m not a show pony, not a one trick pony, or a wild stallion who needs to be tamed or a stubborn mule” – still sub-Baggs in it’s equine retardedness) on his application form. “What does that tell us about you? That you’re a bit of an ass?” she smiles sweetly, adding “What can you tell me about yourself – without clichés and quickly?” Jim braces himself. “I am exactly what it says on the tin” he announces confidently. Margaret simply facepalms.

 

Jim strides out and tells the others “It was really good”. Helen can’t believe Tom’s still in his interview with Claude. “Maybe he’s getting his arse kicked” she smirks. Sadly she’s right, Claude’s pulling Tom’s hitherto good numbers apart (“It’s not one error it’s full of errors…you’ve got no idea!” he points dismissively at Tom’s dodgy spreadsheet). “I have a pretty good idea” ventures Tom, having grown a set of balls which promptly retreat back into him as Claude shouts him down (“YOU DON’T KNOW ANYTHING!!!”). Tom points out that he does know the costings as he’s done the initial purchasing, and apologises that this isn’t made clear on his plan, but apologies aren’t enough for Claude who sends our favourite Michael Sheen lookielike inventor packing with the message that without proper facts and figures his plan isn’t credible.

 

A broken Tom returns to the waiting area, where Helen smugly detects and enjoys his air of defeat.

 

It’s Helen’s turn next to stand in Matthew’s fake elevator and dance like a monkey girl. She claims her idea (“an assistant service for the mass market”) will “help the nation get back on it’s feet” and go large through franchising. It transpires it’s just a glorified “rent a life PA” service wherein Helen tells us not to forget our dentist appointments, sends birthday cards on our behalf and organises our holidays, because Helen really is a joyless cyborg with no life outside of work and thinks we should all be the same. Matthew points out that most dentists send reminders now (“Mine sends me texts”) but Helen’s never had that experience (“You must see an expensive dentist”). She struggles when Matthew points out that she has no supply of contacts to use to deal with all requests (“Get me a table at The Ivy tonight” “I don’t have the contacts as I’m not running the company yet”).

 

Jim bitches that “Suzie will get strips torn off her, be ridiculed… and will still say she’s done well. I’ve seen it before”. At first Susan seems to be impressing Margaret with her tales of making £1500 working for someone else at Greenwich Market before realising she could do better herself and creating her own range of natural cosmetics. “I employed 15 people at one event” boasts Susan. “How did you pay them?” wheedles Margaret. “Er cash!” “No tax? No NI?” Poor Susan, Margaret may as well call in the auditors now (although Susan does later explain that she was just employing students for a couple of days cash in hand, bless her). “Your degree was philosophy and economics?” asks Margaret, adding “Hmmmm” when Susan says yes. What’s wrong with philosophy? I studied it and it hasn’t done me any h.. Oh well, maybe I’d have been better off studying one of those more commercial and relevant degrees like “papyrology”.

 

Claude fixates on Susan’s claim that her business will “turn over £1million profit in the first year”. “Oh! That’s really stupid” she exclaims. “I meant to say I’d make £1million PROFIT!” (and thus £4.5m turnover. Oh dear, she should have kept schtum). She claims her figures are extrapolated on her earnings in Greenwich Market. Unsurprisingly Claude’s unimpressed, stating she has no chance against proper industry heavyweights.

 

Susan emerges, blinking. “Oh my god! That was alright actually – better than I thought.” she gasps, whilst Jim throws her evils.

 

Jim explains his business to Mike. The toadying freak has only called it “AMSmart”, even though it’s merely a hyped up e-learning package for schools, so kids can learn Jim’s Jedi skillz. Mike accuses him of using “AMS” as “a feeble attempt to curry favour”, and Jim admits he wants to use Lord Sugar as a “lynchpin and figurehead” for his idea. “What does Lord Sugar mean to you?” expands Jim on sycophant overdrive, “Entrepreneur Amazing. Brilliant. Unique.” Mike resists the urge to vomit, instead grilling Jim on how many headteachers he’s spoken to about his idea. Jim attempts to evade this question, but somehow Mike nails the slippery chap down to admit he has done zero market research.

 

As Jim slumps back in the waiting area, Susan’s still indefatigable. “Bring on the next one! I’m so pumped!” she trills. Somebody will kill her at this rate.

 

Mike gets all Bladerunner on Helen. “Show me your human side. Tell me a joke… make me laugh!” he demands (Helen: “Ummm. Can I come back to that one”). After an hour or so with all her circuits clicking and whirring she remembers a joke. “A fish is swimming along. He swims straight into something and says ‘Oh damn'”. Mike laughs proving that he isn’t human either.

 

Matthew’s not convinced that Jim has anything going for him besides his “very good sales skills”. Jim turns it round of course (“I do have very good sales skills, thanks for pointing that out”). Matthew chuckles, but Jim is funnier than Helen.

 

Matthew goes on to tell Tom, “You’re a really nice guy – I like nice people. My wife is the nicest person I know, but would I go into business with her? Not on your nelly!” “I’m not surprised you have a nice wife” responds Tom, nicely. Matthew’s concerned that Tom’s a fly by night, moving on to new inventions, after hearing of him abandoning interest in his patented curly nail file (Tom: “I’m not Mr Nail File guy.”), and digs out a reference from a previous employer claiming that Tom is “a starter, not a finisher” (I don’t know, he clearly finished working for that dick). Tom handles it well, firmly pointing out that many inventors don’t get their products to market and he has, but spoils the effect somewhat by diztily knocking something over on the way out and apologising profusely.

 

Claude mauls Jim’s claims of success by dissing Jim’s salary as “not super”. “You’ve got all the answers but no proof” complains Claude, impervious to the Jedi Blarney. “I’ll give you hard bare facts; whatever you want – I believe in my idea” blusters Jim. “The problem is finding anyone else who’ll believe it”, Claude cuts him down. On his return to his fellow candidates, Jim declares this interview “A walk in the park… with people shooting at you..and throwing hand grenades”. Oh come on Jim, an interview with Claude isn’t as bad as living in Cookstown.

 

Matthew pulls Susan up on costs for testing and certification of beauty products (Susan “it has to be done by chemists so they know my products don’t contain arsenic or anything”), deliberately misunderstanding her as meaning that this can be done at a local chemist and then arguing it’s not in the business plan. Susan defends herself by pointing out she has included it in legalities costings (and the sums add up with her estimates), but he still thinks it’s not specific enough and without this in the plan he claims her business is screwed. Susan returns to the waiting area (with accompanying sad violin music), where Helen’s been moaning that Susan’s high energy positivity has been driving her “potty”. The sight of Susan’s glum little face gives Helen an opportunity to show emotion for once with a triumphant grin. Jim’s clearly delighted too. Lovely.

 

It takes Claude to pull Helen down a notch by revealing that her “new idea” is old hat (“It isn’t your idea. Plenty of companies are providing what you are suggesting”). Helen switches tack, saying she’s really aiming to become a “market leader”, and for the thousandth time today claiming to have ” won 10 out of 11 tasks” (single handed I presume).

 

And that’s that. The interview wolves (Lord Sugar: “Now we have two young men!”, Claude: “You mean three young men”, Sugar: “TWO young men”) assemble in the boardroom to dish the dirt.

 

Helen’s first, and whilst they all agree she’s well organised and employable, Margaret thinks she lacks “entrepreneurial flair” and Claude dismisses her as having “no contacts and no knowledge of the business area”.

 

Everyone has a good chuckle about Jim’s bullshit, but Claude throws the hint of a bone for the Irish man by suggesting that “e-learning might hit hot spots as it’s equipping young people for the workplace”. It’s Lord Sugar’s turn to slam Claude: “Schools don’t have any money!”. Nick sums up Jim’s business plan as “one long seduction letter”.

 

Tom’s seen as part mad professor part feckless flibbertigibbet, although Matt’s impressed by the curly nail file and indicates Tom should take this further and invent a third generation nail file (perhaps one that files your nails into the shape of all the tools on a Swiss army penknife?). Claude mocks Tom’s sums and Karren believes Tom would benefit most from Lord Sugar’s input.

 

Claude’s intrigued and impressed by Susan having run a small business from a very young age, but ultimately they all find her naive. Margaret’s got a soft spot for Miss Ma, raising the fact that she sold her products to pay her way through university so should be taken seriously as an entrepreneur.

 

The candidates are shown in and Sugar promises to make his mind up “based on your business plans and my experience of you over the last 11 weeks”. As usual he does no such thing.

 

Susan’s “£4.5 million turnover” is slapped into submission. “I can see you standing there on your little stall” Sugar patronises her gently. “I organised an event where I employed 15 staff” Susan digs, but Sugar can’t accept that she can compete with L’Oreal and the like (“250K would be gone on your marketing… you haven’t a hope in hell. Although that doesn’t mean the business can’t work”).

 

Everyone’s “terribly disappointed” in Helen’s business plan given she has no experience in that field, but she insists she’s found a gap in the market. Sugar’s determined to pigeon hole her in catering due to her role with Greggs (Helen really doesn’t have the air of a woman who’s an expert on pies) and Karren recalls that Helen excelled in baking tasks. “That was my second choice” explains Helen, “but it’s not unique enough”.

 

Tom’s back pain diagnostic chair is laughed off by Sugar who has a bare minimum attitude towards health and safety in his workplace (“I stick to health and safety regulations, but as an employer I would give up and emigrate if all my employees needed a desk chair check” (Is this only a requirement in the public sector then?). Besides, insists Lord Sugar, absenteeism amongst his army of crippled hunchbacks isn’t all down to back pain. “If you put alcohol rub on all their desks it wouldn’t stop them getting the common cold” (although some of them might try to drink it), “I wouldn’t buy in bouncing keyboards just so they wouldn’t get arthritis”, although he accepts “there may be legs in the chair”. Groundbreaking.

 

Jim admits that he only wrote his business plan 2 weeks before “the process” started, and paints a sympathetic portrait of himself as a philanthropic gentleman who takes annual leave from his day job to travel round schools spreading his wisdom (and somehow avoiding talking to head teachers). Sugar’s none too happy about Jim “jumping on the back of my brand” and wonders where the money will come from. Jim commits hara kiri. “I had thought of this being none profit” he starts, adding “it’s not a million dollar idea, but the future of the economy, the future of children”. Lord Sugar’s having none of it, barking that “this is about my commercial life” and not all the work he does selflessly for charity but doesn’t like to talk about it, and implying that Jim only wrote his business plan to please him, he sacks Jim, promoting another gleeful facial twitch from Helen.

 

Next Susan is fired as the true costs of competing in the cosmetics market with her products would be astronomical, although Sugar hints that this isn’t the last we’ve heard from our stream of consciousness Avon lady.

 

The remaining two are sent to wait outside as Sugar confides to his henchies that if this was a straightforward job, Helen would walk it. Nick’s a big fan of Tom’s (“it’s a good product and he’s terribly personable. That’s a powerful combination”, but Karren pisses on his Tom parade (“I think he would need a LOT of managing”).

 

Back in the boardroom, Helen has an announcement to make. “My initial idea is not suitable to you…I have a second business plan. A chain of bakers specialising in home made breads and cakes”. In other words “If I have to make sodding pies to win, then so be it”. Sugar is, rightly, cynical (“Are you just being ultra shrewd”). “This is what I want to do. I want to start my own business”. Tom grows claws stating he can’t understand why she hasn’t already started a business and Helen turns on him griping that if she like him had started a business 5 or 6 years ago then she’d have made it a success. Tom winces.

 

Lord Sugar asks Tom how he managed to get his products into Wallmart, in what must be a planted question, given the poetry of Tom’s story (“I knew they wouldn’t just see one guy, so I created a beautiful parcel and insisted on hand delivering it to the manager and pitched to her, so she gave me 30 minutes and it went to US and UK retailers”). Sugar loves this demonstration of chutzpah (“I didn’t know you had it in you Tom”) and despite him thinking Tom’s business plan needing “a lot of tweaking” (adding “but that’s what business is all about”) he hires Tom, and fires Helen, who sets her lazer eyes to death ray at the likeable inventor. Tom leaps around outside like a big kid yelling “YESS!!!” and I have a bit of a mini tellygasm. It’s so rare for the candidates I really like to win.

 

On “You’re hired” afterwards, Susan confesses that she wanted Lord Sugar to help her to endorse her skin care range (“For when you really want your skin to look at it’s most walnutty”?) and there’s a touching moment where her mum tells everyone how proud she is. Dara gives her a magic robot to easily answer questions like “Do the French love their children”.

 

Jim proves he cannot live without his clichés (“I was in it to win it. I gave it my best shot. If you can do that in life, you can leave with your head held high”) and has a bright future as a football manager (although Lord Sugar suggests that Jim sort out Ireland’s financial problems – no pressure). He’s awarded with a light sabre and presents Dara with a “Jedi Jim” T-shirt.

 

Helen’s been upgraded to “Basic Pleasure Model” but is still dull as fuck and gets a Che Guevara style poster of herself to commemorate her role in the first ever Apprentice attempted coup.

 

Finally Tom appears to celebrate a win for the nerds. “This is for everyone who bullied us at school” rejoices Dara. It transpires that Tom’s business plan didn’t really matter (of course) as Lord Sugar merely wanted to get his gnarled talons on the curly nail file and is forcing Tom to remain “Mr Nail File guy” for the rest of his life (Sugar also cannily hints at a deal to be done with Susan’s business, doubling his sudden cosmetics empire).

 

So that’s it. Another year over, and another bunch of wannabes pruned down meaninglessly in Lord Sugar’s brilliant long running advertisement for whatever it is he does. I’m glad the nice guy won, but almost have the impression that Sugar just goes onto Twitter the day before the final show, having filmed two endings, and picks the most popular remaining candidate.

 

Here’s how they all finished:

 

1) Tom

2) Helen

3) Susan

4) Jim

5) Natasha (how annoying that she can use that on her CV)

6) Melody

7) Zoe

8) Leon

9) Glenn

10) Edna

11) Vincent

12) Ellie

13) Felicity

14) Gavin

15) Alex

16) Edward

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Week 11 and Natasha puts together a 6.30am breakfast of chumps for her fellow candidates (but forgets to spread the toast with special Senna-pod jam). Jim takes the phone call summoning everyone to a rendezvous in a central London shopping mall. “Do we have to wear anything in particular?” he asks, but the line goes dead.

Everyone’s wearing their shiniest whistles and staring ahead with a po-faced expression in the cars (Helen completely ice-queening Tom when he struggles to make idle chitchat) as they all think it’s the interviews round, so amusingly Lord Sugar informs them that this week’s task is to create and run a fast food franchise in units he’s found for them. Their “fast food experience” will be judged by industry experts.

Lucky Tom gets to join Helen on Logic, and immediately accepts her greater knowledge of catering (“I’m happy to be project managed by you”). Sadly this means that she gets to dismiss any of his suggestions (“West Indian and Tex Mex are hot”), pushing her own dream of a chain of pie and mash takeouts, which she thinks have never been done, proving Helen has never been to a festival. Tom thinks pies might be a bit “heavy”, so Helen dreams up “Mini pies. They’re more suitable for ladies”. I think Lady Pies could be a popular choice. Tom’s adamant that he’s better at concept and branding than cooking (I bet for Tom that’s what mums do), so reluctantly Helen heads off to the catering plant in North West London to develop dishes, whilst direly warning Tom that she wants to “be kept in contact all the time. I’m trusting you here Tom”.

Susan points out that Venture are blessed with three minds against two, conveniently overlooking the owners of those “minds”. Natasha’s keen to lead because of her “BA in hospitality management”, and Jim seems momentarily impressed, until he remembers that Natasha is a woman and he takes command (“I’m keen to lead, I’ve got two people behind me, keen to support me”). “I’ll support you with the knowledge from my degree” barks Natasha, but her hint flies through Jim’s ears. “The girls need leading” suggests Jim to camera. He know who wears the trousers in Jim’s household. And the “I’m a stupid sexist cockend” hat. Jim’s eager to do Mexican food, despite the fact that Susan seems to be the only one on the team who’s actually eaten this cuisine (and thus is appointed Mexican food expert). Jim wants Natasha to use her degree to run the kitchen, but she refuses point blank so Jim dons his well stained apron whilst leaving Natasha and Susan together to do branding and marketing. That’s a recipe for disaster.

Natasha and Susan waltz around, apparently looking for branding concepts, but mainly shouting “Arriba!” and boiling the essence of Mexico down to “A happy looking man with a big moustache” (Susan there, clearly due a disappointing Little Chef experience one day). Meanwhile Jim goes to one Mexican fast food place to check out their dishes and get his head around the all important “system” of making food to order en masse. Or not, as he only seems interested in asking what the place “don’t do”. There’s probably a reason they don’t do chilli con carne despite being a Mexican food outlet. Maybe it burns people’s hands? Additionally the fast food bloke reveals they’ve just trialled a Mexican tortilla soup. That’s Jim’s frighteningly erm moist menu sorted.

Helen develops and tastes some very handsome looking mini-pies (Steak, bacon and red wine, Chicken and mushroom, Spinach, broccoli and cheddar) whilst pulling a face suggesting she’s just found a pube in the pastry. She angsts a little about the costings on the magnificently steak packed steak pie, but decides she’d rather keep product quality and take a hit on the margins so signs it off. Meanwhile we get to see a little more of Tom’s creative process. It’s fucking terrifying, but brilliant, like he’s a walking alien bat-computer making bizarre connections between everyday things (things which Tom views with the fresh eyes of a particularly strange child). Thus he wanders into a baby boutique, and gurgles delightedly at signs on shop windows, with Nick, eyes akimbo, trailing behind him. “Qy py!” chortles Tom, looking at a “Qype” sticker outside a newsagents. “That’s a very good name!” He calls Helen excitedly insisting they call their outlet “My Py” (I would have expected him to go for “Pi” but this is mental, it sounds like an unfathomable toy).

Venture’s branding team have come to an impasse. “Som Bravo?” ponders Natasha, hopelessly. “They always have “El” something,” Susan pipes up. “What does “El” mean?” “I have no idea” admits Natasha, giving degrees a bad name. They phone up Jim who offers them “Caracas”, which he has confused with Maracas and “chicken things” (knackers?), although he confesses he has no idea what it means. They all agree it sounds suitably Mexican though, so name their Fast Food restaurant after the capital of Venezuela.

Next the girls have to ring Jim back as they disagree about using peppers on the logo (Natasha “I’m trying to make the pepper iconic to our brand”). Susan thinks peppers aren’t Mexican like Caracas is and starts telling Jim it’s a “dangerous” move (For Fuck Sake), until Natasha snatches the phone away from her and starts telling Jim that Susan is a mental. I almost pity Jim, who pretends to bow to Susan’s greater experience of Mexican food and makes the executive decision to drop the peppers. “Girls, please work together to get a successful outcome” sighs Jim, proving he’d make a great pimp.

Helen calls Tom requesting a list of British names. Oh dear, he’s off in a cloud of nutty whimsy. “Was Byron writing at the same time as Shakespeare? Or William Drake?* Was Byron a vegetarian? Didn’t Columbus discover the potato in America?” A truly bamboozled Helen quickly agrees and hangs up for the sake of her own sanity. Tom is completely on one, doing Dr Who style quirky conceptualising like a bastard in his empty unit (“I see Big Ben over here, the bus here, this bit almost as a big blue wall….”). “Welcome to MY PY” he chuckles diabolically. It sounds very wrong.

(*William Drake? You know? The bloke with the beard who had a vision of a game of bowls on Peckham Rye).

My Py ends up looking like a Conservative Party Conference. It would be BNP, but it’s too stylish, and Columbus is included as a great British name on one of the patriotic floor mats alongside Drake, Churchill and Hugh Grant. “Is Columbus British?” grimaces Nick. “You are kidding me?” gasps Tom, slowly and unconvincingly adding “Columbus Was .. British”. Logic cleverly decide to to do a “dry run” with their two hired kitchen hands. “Hello! Welcome to My Py! Have you ever eaten 100% British?” gasps Helen as part of the greeting spiel. It sounds like dialogue from a bad 70s sex film.

Caracas win the most racist restaurant award with their plethora of sombreros and cacti, plus their rather less friendly attitude towards the sole hired kitchen hand, a woman who reminds me of Jack Dee’s au pair in “Lead Balloon” in the way she effortlessly points out how useless Jim is being. “Jim please organise your kitchen… I need elp.. You must think about things it takes time to do”. Jim’s response is to take control of nachos whilst ignoring her main misgivings (“I’m nacho man”). This woman needs to get one of the places in the final, she’s better than the candidates.

My Py surprisingly does a good first service, despite serving pies, mash and gravy in dodgy looking (presumably wax sealed) cardboard boxes. The customers all seem satisfied by the food, especially the blokes (the ladies pies USP doesn’t really come across as they’re serving three pies per portion.

Caracas in comparison are a kitchen nightmare , with customers greeted by a discarded hammer and nails as they walk in (plus Natasha shouting for Susan). Most of their customers decide to eat in (strangely not wishing to walk around with chilli con carne or soup) so they quickly run out of chairs. The orders pile up, so it’s a 10 minute wait for chicken in pitta bread, cold tortillas and freezing nachos followed by a manic Susan apology. Karren reflects that the team spent so much time talking about décor that they didn’t organise a system of serving food that worked.

“You can’t serve cold nachos” moans Susan. “Give me solutions” snaps Jim. “Erm keep them in the oven” retorts Susan. Jim goes through Venture’s enormous stack of negative customer feedback “Slow. Not fast food. Crazy waitress.”

Logic’s only negative comment is that the box “is difficult to eat out of” (snigger), so Helen decides to switch to a smaller plastic container.

The next morning Jim warns Susan not to “come across as frantic and frazzled as it will create a bad atmosphere”. Rather than warning Jim not to come across as a twat, Susan comes up with an improved workable solution to the teams problems with service. Even Jim thinks it just might work.

When it transpires that the industry experts judging are from McDonalds and Dominos, I almost stop caring who wins as long as the loser starts an e-coli outbreak. I suppose I should be relieved that neither team involved “poetry” in their fast food concept.

The judging is based on 4 categories: customer service, food, branding and ability to demonstrate the “concept” of how the restaurant will run in future.

Lord Sugar arrives at Caracas with Satan’s acolytes and orders chicken fajitas (it’s so odd seeing him doing something vaguely normal). “Can I recommend the nachos” presses Susan. “Sure, if you want to.” he bristles gently. One awkward industry expert asks for a fajita with no peppers (I bet Susan feels vindicated). This woman had better not be McDonalds, the amount of grief it used to take to order a burger without gherkin. Natasha aggressively boasts that they are running at 5 minutes “from top to end” and the fast food experts give each other knowing looks. The evil fast food representatives seem to think the branding’s OK (“You know what you’re gonna get”) but are unimpressed by the profit margin. Things get worse when Jim pitches and is thrown the “curveball” question “What’s your projected turnover within one hour”. Not only does Jim answer based on two hours, he also works out that 60 people in two hours on average spending will bring in £4,800. Er no. He tries again. “£4,200” and is forced to admit a major maths fail (It’s £420, not exactly a thriving business). Natasha fields the question about the stereotypical Old World images, stating that Caracas offers “Chill time in a strong Mexican environment” (Perhaps they sell fake moustaches so you can have a nap under one of the fake cacti?). Jim tries to charm everyone with a gag: “Our first customer hasn’t paid, so Lord Sugar could you settle up?” Tumbleweed flutters through the cacti.

Next Lord Sugar and the filthy food peddlers visit My Py. “Have you ever eaten 100% British before?” Helen quizzes them, stiltedly. Everyone awkwardly says “Yes”. Sugar plumps for steak and red wine py, with the industry experts selecting “Drake and Nightingale” (duck and cough medicine flavour). Service is going well until Tom realises that the new trays are way too small and he’s in fact pouring scalding gravy over his hands. Tom kicks the pitch off enthusiastically, visualising 500 outlets of My Py nationwide, all of them “100% brilliantly British” (nobody mentions Columbus). Then Helen takes over and fluffs her business model bit, preciously blaming Tom for putting her off because he’s hovering and “Yes”ing on her every word like an over-excited nodding bulldog. “Sorry to have interrupted you” demurs Tom. The experts like the pies and the price, so talk “gross margins” and Helen does well, explaining that the steak pie has a greater margin, but she wanted to balance quality with the menu. “What would you do in Summer?” asks one woman (must be McDonalds, just because they do nice fattening Summer salads). Tom thinks for a millisecond and decides on cold pork pies. Oh come on, people eat hot food in the summer. Fast food places don’t sell cold chips on purpose.

Back in the boardroom, and Sugar thinks Venture chose well with Mexican food as it’s currently fashionable, but “Caracas” is mocked as a brand-name (Karren: “Be honest you all thought it was a made-up word!”). Karren also bigs up Susan for attempting to sort out the failed ordering system.

Tom admits that Logic’s My Py came from him misreading a sign, but he went for it as he wanted to mix the traditional and the new. “We did a practice run with the chef” starts Tom, but Lord Sugar’s decided that he’s fed up with Tom suddenly piping up for himself and wants to hear Helen’s side of things. “I didn’t want to go to the kitchen,, but Tom insisted he was used to concept and branding” Helen leads with her “get out” clause.

Nick and Karren deliver the average scores across all categories from the fast food experts. Caracas score 4/10, My Py score 7/10. So it’s a win for the pies and Tom and Helen are finalists. They rush off happily, Tom giggling and shushing himself sweetly to avoid looking too pleased.

In Fail Café, where pies sit amusingly on the hot plate, Natasha thinks Sugar should fire Susan. Susan thinks Natasha should go. And Jim believes that it is his godly right to get into the final. They head back to the boardroom, greeted by the angry walnut face of Lord Sugar, who presents them with a proper business model containing costings drawn up by Tom and Helen and demands to know where Venture’s equivalent of this model is.

“None of us considered how long things would take and how many people we would serve” Susan admits. Sugar’s unimpressed “This is BUSINESS! One of you wants to go into business with me”.

Jim’s crap maths is bought into account, although Sugar points out that the final figure of £420 over 2 hours would see them going bust.

The slow delivery of the food follows on like this (Karren reckons this is because they didn’t know if they were a fast food or a waitress restaurant). “I was endeavouring to buy more time” Natasha states. As though hungry people would want to spend more time with Natasha bullshitting them whilst waiting for their food.

Natasha’s next in the firing line as Lord Sugar brings up her “Degree in food and hospitality” (this degree is all things to all people) and asks if it included understanding food. “Yeah!” affirms Natasha. “But it was a long time ago”. How old is she for christ’s sake?

Susan turns on Jim’s poor market research (he should have found the best sellers and how long they took), prompting Jim to play his “bitchscrap” card and accuse his team-mates of fighting so much that it distracted him from his manly leadership. “Why did you put us together” asks Natasha ridiculously (because there’s only three of you and you didn’t want to cook you dumb bint). “I had feedback from you that you found Susan like a child to work with” shares Jim uselessly, adding that both women were equally shit (“I had excitability and manic enthusiasm from Susan and at the other end of scale I had manic despair”. Natasha’s face hardens to the texture of corrugated steel.

Lord Sugar sends them out so Karren can tell him how rubbish Susan (“You need a sieve with her to work out what is meaningful”) is and how Natasha has a spark, but she must be tired with the process as it appears to have gone.

Anyhow, yet again they’re all dragged back in (I’m sure Sugar never used to do so much consulting with his henchies in previous series). Susan thinks Jim could go, as he’s a charming talker but has no original idea. It’s almost as though the girls have had a chat too, as like on the Weakest Link they both blame Jim (Natasha says he can’t make decision). Jim’s on the ropes (“I’m caught in a pincer movement”), but plays his hand, stating that Natasha should go (“100%”).

Jim really seems screwed here until he remembers to blame his team’s “experts” (Susan’s tenuous fondness for Mexican food and Natasha’s degree). Natasha claims her degree content is no longer of interest to her. “You spent four years of your adult life doing it” Jim points out. Natasha says it’s only Jim “highlighting and contextualising” her degree, not her (she’s forgotten that she bought it up first). “My task responsibility was over on the creative side” Natasha states, but that doesn’t cut any ice with Lord Sugar (“You should be all in the same boat”). “I honed in on what I liked doing” she flounders in response, but she’s in trouble now. “If I did a first aid course and didn’t enjoy doing mouth to mouth, I’d still have to do it if it was needed” growls the Nookie Bear-esque peer.

Jim has Natasha’s number: “You are fight or flight in any situation”, but he’s gulping and twitching like a fish that’s been caught committing adultery.

Lord Sugar worries that Susan doesn’t get on with people, but he admires her achievements (enrolling herself in school, running her own business) and she makes the final. Likewise Jim, as Lord Sugar likes his “spirit”. So it’s bye bye to Natasha, who takes Losers Taxi to a Yates’s Wine Lodge, holding her gnarled little face held high and claiming that her “dignity” is intact.

Jim looks utterly drained of blood, and only comes to life in the car back to the house, when Susan tries to throw oil on troubled waters (“Whatever happens in the boardroom stays in the boardroom”). Jim pops back with fighting talk (“You smelt blood, it was ‘Let’s scalp Jim’. Your business acumen’s been really poor”). Susan gives him a “Whatever dickhead” look.

Back at the house, Helen and Tom think that only Susan has returned and it’s hugs and smiles all round (nobody perceives Susan as a threat) until Jim strolls in. “Anybody order a final four” he smarms. Nope.

Next week the final four are grilled over their business plans by Lord Sugar’s baying pack of interviewers, including Claude and Margaret. I can’t wait.

So the final four are (thanks for the massive spoiler Radio Times) in order of favouritism – with probable placings next to them:

 

Tom (3 – unless he’s invented an alarm clock that gives hand jobs)

Susan (2)

Helen (1)

Jim (4)

Adios Amigos: Natasha, Melody, Zoe, Leon, Glenn, Edna, Vincent, Ellie, Felicity, Gavin, Alex, Edward

Week 10 and following a gratuitous and strangely invigorating Tom in a Towel shot, the candidates are dragged to EPR wholesalers in Enfield where Lord Sugar waxes all dewy eyed about his youthful jolly barrel boy bollocks in days of yore, before setting them the task to sell a random assortment of products he’s chosen and reinvest the money in the best selling products (“smell what’s selling”) thus building a rudimentary business. The team with the greatest amount of assets wins, so being left with a stockpile of crap isn’t necessarily a losing strategy.

Susan joins Jim and Natasha on Venture, whereas Helen moves to Logic with Tom and Melody. Tom’s card is remarked by Lord Sugar, who doesn’t want any more grovelling hindsight bollocks. Tom obediently nods his head. “If you nod your head any more I’m gonna put you on the back seat of my blahhdy car” snaps Lord Sugar sinisterly. Ironically they inventory the products chosen for them and discover one is a nodding bulldog wearing a Union Jack waistcoat (“Oh yes!”).

Melody volunteers to lead Logic, as she hasn’t been Project Manager since week 1 and Helen backs her (Tom typically starts well in his new promised dynamic approach by silently acquiescing).

Susan’s equally forthright putting herself forward for Venture (“it’s what my parents do”), but Natasha shouts her down (“Operationally I will be stronger”) and Jim pretends to be all objective, but still sides with Natasha. “I’m 100% behind you then” bleats Susan, “but I would like you to trust my judgement”. Naturally Natasha takes the opportunity to patronise “Suzie” (“I’m over the moon you’re in this team”) and sends her out to flog duvets house to house in Knightsbridge (hmm) whilst Natasha and Jim head to Covent Garden to sell shed loads of overpriced tat to mentally ill tourists (£7.50 for the nodding bulldog! And it sells!). Jim’s Jedi skills are back with a vengeance and he wheedles people into buying a brolly for a tenner a go on a clear day. Meanwhile Susan finally makes it past the horse guards parade to unsuccessfully shout through well heeled letterboxes at cleaners. “That was really unsuccessful” she sighs, “they must be rubbish products” (erm nobody’s actually seen them yet.).

Helen’s master plan for Logic is to try to flog the wholesale products to erm retailers, giving them the opportunity to mark up to the public, if they decide to gamble beyond their usual suppliers. Genius! Melody’s on board and drags the pair of them into “Poundstar” (there’s a clue in that name somewhere) to try to sell a £50 RRP watch for £25. “Er no.” explains the weary retailer, “this is a pound shop”. Melody’s not disheartened (“I thought at one point he would go for it”). Continuing on their retarded quest they then try to sell the “chocolatey” duvet cover (a must for incontinents) to the owner of a hardware shop.

Tom bravely pitches up at the London eye fleecing kids with the nodding bulldogs. “I’ll give you £5” lisps one tousle-headed little scamp. “Ohhh dear, you’re very good at this aren’t you” simpers Tom. His wide-eyed and likeable Nick Park style spiel is actually a great hit with the kids (“here’s your doggy”) and he quickly sells the lot, not that Melody and Helen are interested in fulfilling his request for more bulldogs.

Nick Hewitt notes grimly that neither team is thinking much about reinvesting, it only being the whole point of the task. Jim clicks first and nags Natasha (“You need to think about strategy and buying for tomorrow”), but she’s too busy getting all defensive and accuses him of panicking, before ringing Susan (waking her up in the process) and asking how the duvets have sold. Make that duvet, as somehow Susan managed to shift one for £18. “I’m more than happy for you to chip in some responsibility as well” Natasha barks at Jim, as she’s completely incapable of making a sodding decision herself.

Melody and Helen find the retail world’s answer to Mohammed Ali (“I AM the cheapest!”) and unwisely decide he would be the perfect person to sell their dirty protest duvet covers to, just about managing to haggle him to £10 per duvet for the 9 duvets they have. Even though he’s the cheapest, he’s still seen this pair coming and hints “If you had more, I’d give a good order”. They agree to get him 30 duvet covers, now there’s just the small matter of finding and buying that many, but the girls decide to leave that until the following day as there’s now none left at the wholesalers.

At 6pm on day 1, both teams have to reinvest their takings. Logic have about £260 to spend (with Tom having made the same amount of money as Melody and Helen combined). Melody waltzes around picking up travel irons as though she’s planning a trip to visit her mate the Dalai Lama. “Why are we selling travel things, that’s horrible?” complains Helen (over-reacting slightly), but Melody just ignores her so she pulls hacky faces and selects an almost sensible emergency phone charger. Tom seems to have been banned from the reinvestment process, but is disappointed by the random choices they display to him back at the house.

Venture meanwhile have £292, and whilst Natasha buys bulldogs, Susan (unimpressed with Lord Sugar’s selected products) goes all feral and invests in £100 worth of shiny bracelets. “I’d go for a few more of those one’s, they’re really popular” charms the trinket-trader, spotting the magpie gleam in Susan’s eye. “Yeah? I really appreciate your advice, thanks!” gasps Susan sweetly. Back at the house she unveils her treasure (“I have sold these bracelets before”) but Jim and Natasha just stare at the poor idiot girl.

Next morning Melody wafts in to meet her team-mates, but Helen’s looking tense and reveals that she’s been up all night. She starts with a spoonful of sugar (“I know you’re exceptionally strong at sales Melody”) before dropping the bombshell (“So is it best if I take over as Project Manager today as I feel it takes strong strategy and organisation”). It’s an attempted coup, an Apprentice first by Helen, the (until recently) silent assassin. Melody’s taken aback, but as usual her mouth kicks back into gear first (“That all suggests to me that you have a really amazing strategy”) and she neatly rebuffs Helen’s offer with the strength of a thousand Thatchers (“No to that. I want to take responsibility”). I think Tom’s contribution is to uncomfortably shift from one buttock to the other.

Anyhow El Presidente Melody decides unsurprisingly to take Tom to their stall in Hammersmith tube to sell untried products (Tom to his credit seems to just as well when he’s not flogging stuff to children), whilst it’s Helen who’s out in the cold trying to sell bike lights and emergency phone chargers to the high powered denizens of Canary Wharf (she finds one annoying ginger geek, who finally agrees to buy a phone charger). She suddenly remembers the great duvet deal of the day before and calls the brown linen supplier she’d found only to discover that they closed for the day at er 2pm (left it a little late surely?). The only other supplier is back in Enfield, a four hour round trip away for the amazing profit of £3 per duvet. She calls Melody, unsure of whether it’s worth it, but Melody’s still pissed off at Helen for coup-gate, so tells her to take the risk and head to the wholesalers, just to get her out of the picture.

In Shepherd’s Bush, Jim’s become an Irish Jedi Del Boy, selling like a fiend to an assembled crowd of bedazzled little old ladies. “I wouldn’t pay £25 for that duvet” one claims. “You must have actually misheard me,” pounces Jim, “I said £20”. Even Nick has to laugh and admit that he’s starting to like Jim for the first time (“It’s a load of baloney, but fun”).

Susan’s starting to look like an idiot savant at Portobello Market as she effortlessly sells her stock of bracelets, under the rattled gaze of Natasha, who’s just trying to stand around looking broody and doesn’t need all the stress and hassle of someone actually doing something and making her look bad. There’s only one thing for it, she has to bizarrely micro-manage Susan, even leaping in with a price change right in the middle of a sale Susan’s making. When she’s rightly pulled up on this it gives her a chance to be an utter twat (something she is actually good at). “Stop being such an angry person! Stop embarrassing yourself” she snarls like a wizened fishwife, waving away Susan’s protestations. Jim’s also selling well and calls Natasha to request some reinvestment. “We are carrying plenty of stock” she reasons limply, but Jim’s actually understood the task and urges her not to be conservative. Natasha’s adamant “we can’t risk having more stock left over”, but that’s because she’s a thick pram-faced troll. “She’s making a Horlicks of it all” sighs Nick politely. Eventually Jim can take no more of Natasha’s “all passion and no clue” leadership, (“I’d rather try and fail than be ridiculed by Lord Sugar for failing the directive of the task”) and Natasha gives him the go-ahead to buy more umbrellas with hardly any time remaining. In a superhuman effort he makes it to Enfield, buys 23 umbrellas (with only 23 minutes to get back to central London) and somehow makes it back just for the clock to strike 6pm. Hang on, Helen’s taken hours doing the same journey. Can Jim actually fly as well as doing mind control? Told you he was a witch.

Talking of Helen, she’s finally braved the traffic to get back to Mr Cheap, but sadly he’s not also Mr Tardy and has already closed for the day, so she’s left with a boot load of chocolatey duvets. Mission accomplished for Melody then as she states that she thought Helen was “insane” to try and take over as Project manager. You don’t cross Melody and forget about it in a hurry.

In the boardroom, and Lord Sugar’s keen to see that the teams have demonstrably smelled what they er sold. Venture are asked about Melody’s leadership, and Tom maintains a tactful silence, but Helen’s more vocal (“She was terrible! No strategy – just long winded speeches with no substance”). However Helen’s selling to retail strategy is soon exposed as business nonsense (“This is a margins game!”). Tom puts his hand up to mention his “risk of going to the South Bank on my own” (my hero!), and it’s noted that, despite not being a natural salesman, he sold all his bulldogs. “I take it you replenished the stock?” Sugar asks. “No” retorts Helen. A tumbleweed bounces by.

Next Logic are asked about Natasha’s Project Management, and she takes their pursed lips as a cue to big herself up (“I put myself forward very strongly”). Susan’s pulled up for her uncomplimentary appraisal of Lord Sugar’s selected products (“You thought it was a load of tut?”), and admits that she didn’t do a very good job trying to sell door to door household items in Knightsbridge.

Nick bigs up Jim’s contribution for Venture (“Did you kiss the blarney stone or swallow it whole?”). “I think I’m charming and resilient” Jim casually opines. “Modest also” chuckles Sugar. However it’s revealed that Venture tragically failed to reinvest until too late on Day 2, and then only to the tune of £20 (“Are you ‘avin a laff or what?”). Jim explains that he struggled to convince a strong character like Natasha (because he’s such a fluffy little lamb), adding “It’s difficult to push treacle up a hill”.

Sugar’s fuming at Natasha’s lack of “balls” and takes a £100 fine off Venture. So its time for the scores in terms of sales and stock left over.

Logic sold £1,204 worth and bought £476 worth, leaving them with total assets of £728

Venture sold £1,154, bought £303 worth, but were fined £100, still leaving them with total assets of £751

Gah! So Natasha is safe. However, Lord Sugar’s got his knickers in a twist and reveals that he was going to give the winning team a helicopter ride to Goodwood to look at Vintage Cars (which sounds like the sort of prize Alan Partridge would have soiled his pants in joy over), but now they have to go to bed early with no supper as punishment for their absent cojones. Back at the house, Natasha refuses to accept any responsibility for this state of affairs and gripes away at Susan (“It was like trying to manage a child all day”). Susan points out that Natasha didn’t do any selling all day. “I couldn’t trust you to get on with things” bitches Natasha. “You’re saying the reason we didn’t get a treat was because of me” asks Susan, her jaw hitting the carpet (as usual). “Yeah!” Natasha warms to her theme, “cos we were a TEAM. Yeah!”

Melody’s nearly in tears in the Café of Shame, and harps on about feeling unsupported by certain mutinous team members. She grits her jaw and eyeliner. “I’m not going anywhere” she promises.

So it’s boardroom part 2, and Helen explains her move (“I felt Melody lost control, she seemed to be floundering”), but Melody senses an escape route when Helen reveals that her grand plan if she had become PM was just to attempt to get “massive orders” from retail. “She still doesn’t get it!” whines Melody, but Karren slams her (“You positively embraced the idea of selling to retail yourself”). Melody reveals that she “didn’t want to prioritise a wholesaler” just for Tom’s well selling nodding dogs. In fact, annoyingly Tom seems to be the only person in the boardroom who understood the task. Shame he didn’t pipe up enough about it, and now is reduced to moaning that nobody listened to him, yet again.

Helen’s “fools errand” (as Tom puts it) to Enfield to find duvets for Mr Cheap is again under scrutiny, as in a real business it’s pointed out that the petrol cost alone would have cancelled out any profit, if the cheap shop had even been open by the time Helen returned. “Which of you three brain surgeons came up with this one?” queries Sugar, and Tom says that the fact he didn’t yell it down makes him “personally responsible” (Noooooo!). It’s revealed that the decision was down to Melody, although she tries to wriggle out by blaming Helen (“It’s not much to expect the person who wanted to take my job to check what time a shop closed” – she’s not going to let coup-gate lie is she?).

As it descends into a genteel cat-fight, Lord Sugar sends everyone out so he can chat to Nick and Karren about how much he’s in love with Melody. Oh and gauge their opinions of the other candidates. Karren suggests that Helen has been a good organiser but “took her eye off the ball with her retail obsession”, but she also rather decently praises Tom for his selling in this task. Sugar can still speak of nothing but Melody (“Maybe there’s something in all that jabba”). “If you went into business with Melody your boardrooms would be a very very long affair” smirks Karren.

So the candidates are dragged back in and made to explain why they deserve to stay, starting with Melody (this must be why tonight’s show gives over 30 minutes to the boardroom). She launches into a shower of bullshit, which if you actually try to listen to and understand makes your ears warp in protest. Apparently the best things in life are not free but earned, and by choosing to lead in the first week Melody proved herself to be more courageous than Gandhi, Han Solo and Jesus rolled into one. “I won us the task in the first week” she insists, until Helen points out that she may have had a slight hand in it. “In Paris I made all appointments bar two” continues Melody. “Yes and you kept them to yourself” Karren rolls her eyes. At age 26 though Melody’s had 13 years in business. Lord Sugar asks what we all want to know, what exactly is it that she frigging does. “I set up one of the most successful democratic bodies in the world” she erm elucidates (she’s too young to run the Bieber fan club isn’t she?). “Last year I worked on the Queens Speech”. I think Sugar’s mind may be made up as he pleads with her to stop fucking talking (“OK! I got it I got it!”).

Helen’s next and the fact she hasn’t lost seems to have gone to her head as she claims to have personally “won every task”, until Sugar clarifies that she was on the winning team. However she still has her record breaking sales figures to fall back on (remember what they did for poor Liz last year?). Sugar has her down as a glorified PA (“Actually I’m an executive assistant to the chief executive”). Has he gone off secretaries since Stella won last year?

Sugar thinks that “on paper” Tom is right up his alley, a “products man”, but the hindsight thing is just getting boring. Tom grows some teeth and suggests that Helen and Melody have shown their “business naivety” in the task. “Melody runs a business which unsurprisingly is all to do with talking and none of us understand what it is she does” he states, reminding me that just occasionally he is capable of hitting the nail firmly and clearly on the head. And he pisses Melody off (“That’s totally disrespectful”) which is fun. “I’m showing my passion and that I’ve got a core of steel” Tom giggles fluffily,

He’s struck a chord on the Melody issue, as Lord Sugar admits that he also has “difficulty” understanding what Melody actually does, and after some lacklustre weighing up he sadly states that the person leaving isn’t necessarily a failure, it’s just he can’t work with them (without getting strangely aroused). Yup, he fires Melody, causing a muted cheer as we all realise we will miss her being grilled by Claude* over her close associations with Al Gore, the Dalai Lama and 12 Nobel Peace Prize Winners.

Melody’s a little emotional leaving the boardroom, but insists in Fail Taxi that whilst she and Lord Sugar “won’t be going into business right now” their paths will cross again and he will finally understand what she really does, which is “more than talking” (she types self publicising statements too).

Back at the house and it’s Helen’s turn to act like a precious fool as she piddles all over Tom’s homecoming parade (“Tom was slightly naughty and I’m still learning to forgive him on that one”) and makes him look all chastened and nervous, as though she’s caught him trying to invent a “Weird Science” style sex robot version of her.

Next week the teams have to create a Fast Food restaurant. There’s more Natasha nastiness towards Susan and there’s Tom confidently waffling into a phone about Columbus inventing the potato**. Or something.

* Fans of the interview round, do not despair. It will be part of the final episode. Margaret’s apparently going to back for more too. Hurrah. Just a shame Melody can’t be there.

** Columbus did not invent the potato. McCain did, as any fule know.

Liking: Tom, Susan

They’re good, I just don’t like them: Jim, Helen

Waste of Oxygen: Natasha

So long chumps: Melody, Zoe, Leon, Glenn, Edna, Vincent, Ellie, Felicity, Gavin, Alex, Edward