Apprentice 2013 Episode 2: A Barrel of Laughs

The one with the brewery. There’s no need for a spoiler, is there? Lord Sugar even utters the immortal line, although you’re made to wait about 47 minutes for it. It doesn’t constitute either suspense or surprise. And given that most of us recognise the human ability to make a fool of ourselves over alcohol (this is a blog, not a confessional, let’s keep things general …), mixing fifteen idiots and a brewery was always going to be a little predictable. Oh well, down the hatch …

It’s 6am in the Apprentimansion. Jason is wearing the kind of stripey jimjams that would make most viewers over a certain age (or of a certain disposition) think of Rock Hudson. Luisa’s Doris Day impersonation, meanwhile, is way off the mark. It’s the series’ habitual soft-porn/candidates-in-their-undergarments section, and the lads have got their tats out for the lasses. Myles impersonates an old Badedas bath foam advert for the cameraman’s benefit, but I’d have thought the chances of a seasoned film crew succumbing to his over-advertised charm at 6.02am were a little thin. Neil, episode 1’s gruellingly relentless back-seat driver, meanwhile reveals a physical quirk. Despite having one of those beards that disappears down his neck, his chest is as bald as his ambition. For at least one good reason, someone needs to deal with that man with a cut-throat razor.

All of which probably goes to show how engaged I was with the episode. The plucky 15 are whisked off to a pub that used to be part of the Bank of England to be told that they will be ‘inventing’ a flavoured beer. Flavoured beers, we are told as if it is breaking news, are the latest trends in British brewing. (I’ve been drinking Belgian fruit beers since I was 15 … oops, make that 18 … and I dearly wish I had a case on hand right now, but on with the programme, eh?) To invoke a pun the script somehow missed, Lord Sugar shakes up the teams to keep things sparkling and effervescent. Kurt, who may not have spoken yet but runs a drinks business, becomes Endeavour’s PM, while Tim is moved to Evolve to lead the girls. I think this is called putting the pigeon amongst the cats …

The boys are straight into discussing flavours. Chilli and caramel is the first suggestion, although Alex ponders the wisdom of chilli and suggests chocolate orange. Jordan chews (sadly only) the possibility of nettles, wondering if they’d sting his mouth. Not only has flavoured beer passed him by, but the ancient tradition of nettle tea hasn’t dawned on him either. And swollen mouths are hardly what any of them are lacking. Kurt swiftly reveals his PM style: chocolate orange it is and the manufacturing team will include Zee (forbidden alcohol on religious grounds), Jordan (doesn’t drink beer) and Jason (hates beer). As Kurt has already decided they will apply chocolate orange to amber bitter rather than stout, their input – that it’s far nicer with stout (all the chocolate beers I’ve ever encountered were based on stout, which seems like a hint) – will be (irresistible pun ahoy) fruitless in any case. Bizarrely, Neil appears to say nothing. Possibly a technical failure with a microphone …

Tim’s PM-ing style is completely different. “I’m a team player, not a lone ranger,” he tells us, and wants to avoid the team talking over each other. He’s diplomatic, charming and plainly awfully nice. I quietly hope that he’s more hirsute than Neil, as he could save time and just shave the word ‘Welcome’ into his chest now. As Karren is quickly pointing out, the team are all squawking over each other within minutes, and “decisions will depend on who has Tim’s ear”. Several of his team colleagues appear more than ready to slice it off for safe-keeping. Still, they eventually decide beer is a man’s drink (ooh, innovative pitching!), and that rhubarb and caramel is a winning taste sensation. Even more miraculously, they turn out to be right about both these things. And then, just when it’s looking promising, Uzma decides that a beer festival isn’t really their target market. As clever metaphors are beyond those around her, the early worm fails to get the bird …

As sub-teams are picked, Uzma takes charge of marketing. Luisa takes charge of sniping charmlessly over her right shoulder and of demonstrating how little she understands the mechanics of design. While sitting next to the professional designer who must suffer this for a few minutes free airtime. Having plumped for rhubarb and caramel bitter, Luisa is plainly hellbent on maximising the ‘barb’. Rhubarb is, we’re informed, a luxury, which will be great news for the population of Pontefract, and ‘Rhubarb and Riches’ it is. Well, they’re halfway there.

Over at the boys’ beer-christening/willy-waving fest, Neil has obviously woken up as he is now claiming responsibility for everything. A pale chocolate orange beer called ‘A Bitter This’ – well, we all have to plant our first flag somewhere, I suppose. “Behind every PM there’s a Neil Clough,” he tells a tactfully silent cameraman. Yep, little beardy twonk with a dagger in each hand: you can’t miss him …

Satisfied they’ve captured the best lines from the marketing efforts, the editors whisk us back to the factory where things are going swimmingly. Tim’s sub-team can’t add up or multiply for toffee – or exotic fruit-infused bevvies – and inject enough rhubarb flavouring into the first few casks that the man from the brewery a) declares the results ‘dangerous’ and b) probably wishes he’d worn his incontinence pants that morning. If only they’d known, they could have sold him some of that left-over cat litter. 30 litres of base ale down the drain, and £123 with it. Rebecca, the Cruella de Poppins of sales closure, will manage trade sales tomorrow, and it’s looking dubious as to whether they will have anything to show her but ashen faces and a giggling brewer. The boys are meantime high-fiving round their first bottled product, and nominating Alex to manage trade sales. They’re so excited they forget to actually give him a sample to take with him. Oh dear.

The following day, Neil, Kurt, Miles and Jordan sell orangey beer at St Albans beer festival for the highest price in the room while punters ask them why they didn’t go for a stout. Nick H manages to grimace without so much as tasting the product:I think that’s called foresight. Oddly, sales aren’t electrifying. Late in the day, still needing to sell three pints a minute, they decamp to the South Bank and sell their beer at first £2.50, then £2 and finally £1 a pint. It might not be the nicest beverage available, but at a pound a pint in central London you don’t need to depend on repeat custom. Neil barks at bystanders that he named this beer personally. As the camera focuses on him, we can’t see how impressed they are at this. The rest of the boys have a harder time with trade sales, not least as they turn up with an empty bottle at the first pitch. There after, they argue in front of potential customers, fail to provide pump clips and start shouting at each other in the street. Can’t hold their drink, some people.

For the girls, The Kent Beer Festival turns out to be a pub in Putney. Despite the initial tumbleweed scene, punters eventually arrive and the camera catches Tim being very Tigger-ish with a bunch of Morris Men. The team manage surprisingly well, flapping slightly less than the morris mens’ hankies, and the crowd are very complimentary about the beer (and at £3.60 a pint, they get the pricing about right too). Sadly, when sales slow, they decide to move on to a wine bar in Richmond. As Karren tells the long-suffering film crew, not somewhere that people – and a lot of them are also women – go to get their smackers round a poncey pint. Meanwhile, Rebecca shifts a few casks to pubs before, despite some faint praise from Uzma, she proceeds to break out into Apprentice Trope No 6: “Why are you undermining me all the time?” Why candidates do this remains a mystery. If you’re selling more than anyone else – as she is – you’re safe this early in the series. Showing ‘temperament’ is one of the fastest ways of getting your cards marked, yet Rebecca succumbs to the temptation. On our sofa, she is immediately re-christened as The Grim Weeper.

Finally – praise be – time is called and it’s time for the sober surroundings of the boardroom. From what we’ve been allowed to see, sales may be even-ish, but Evolve’s beer wastage in production has lost them this round?

Perhaps Lord S detects a little excess swagger amongst the boys: Alex is told to sit up straight (with those eyebrows? It might not be possible …) and Neil is forced to laugh jovially as his award-winning product name is pawed down sneeringly. The choice of a non-beer drinking team is monstered (although Kurt’s steam-rollering of opinion rendered that pointless anyway), pricing policy is laughed at, and the ‘sending them off with no samples’ element triggers some serious argy-bargy. It becomes ever clearer that the rest of the boys really don’t like Jason. Lucky for him he’s not been on a losing team yet, I suspect.

Over at Evolve, Tim’s ambition to run a drinks basis is flagged – mainly as a vulnerability. The team’s weakness – maths and location-choice – are also quickly flagged, and the girls’ claws are duly extended and pointed in Tim’s direction.

When the figures are resolved, Rebecca may have once again conquered all in terms of trade sales, but the boys’ ‘flog it cheap’ strategy gives them a winning margin of about £500. (Although they didn’t pour beer away during manufacture, they also managed to spend rather more.) As a treat, they are sent to Belgium for something professionally brewed. The girls, and Tim, skulk off to the café for something that – like them – has been left to stew slightly too long.

Returning to the boardroom, they find Lord S chewing a wasp. Which may be the best way to cleanse the palette after their fruity concoctions. Debate, such as it is, quickly turns to acrimony and Rebecca – who seems to feel her contributions should be mentioned only when they are advantageous to the team – descends once more into a seething mass of passive-aggression. Her role in location picking is plainly reflecting badly on her, but it triggers an outburst of reflecting badly on herself – much to Sugar’s chagrin. Even before the ‘final three’ moment, her card is marked – although the series’ format telegraphs that this means she will survive. (In broadcast arts, the audience must suspend disbelief, darling: it’s traditional.)

Tim brings her back, along with Francesca, whose multiplication skills threatened to poison half of West London and wipe out Morris Dancing as we know it. (Give that woman a prize, I say …) Tim has to defend himself against charges of being a doormat who got steam rollered, and plays the ‘I accept responsibility’ and ‘I’m a fast learner’ cards. Francesca failed her delegated task, and her contributions beyond this are subjected to a search party that returns empty-handed. Rebecca, meanwhile, eats humble pie through her own trumpet. Although Francesca should have gone and Rebecca should have been sent for counselling, the hapless Tim finds himself on the end of the finger.

The follow-up programme shows the audience mostly disagreed – Tim wasn’t entirely catastrophic, and displayed many attributes the other candidates could have usefully admired and learned from (possibly at the expense of viewing entertainment, but that depends on your interpretation of ‘entertainment’). But this isn’t a business programme about listening: this is a light-entertainment programme that’s about shrieking and losing all self-respect. And that’s just the audience …

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