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“Women in business don’t cry, my dear.”

la Martha I watched the first episode of The Apprentice: Martha Stewart because I heart Martha. (Judging from their opening-day outfits, I think that the show’s contestants heart her, too. If you were to cut a swatch from each seafoam green skirt and Wedgwood blue necktie, you would have the beginnings of a Living feature on decorating with color.) I watched the second episode on the chance that it might be more entertaining than the premiere. It wasn’t, really, but I’m not sure that it’s the show’s fault.

I could not be more bored with reality TV. In fact, it’s not even just that I’m bored with it; it’s also that I’ve grown to find it embarrassing. The connection between reality TV and reality as we know it was always tenuous, but now it’s like the genre has transcended any attempt at verisimilitude. At this point, everyone who participates in reality TV has—presumably—consumed a great deal of reality TV. Contestants have learned how to be a reality-TV character, how to act like one is not acting. It makes me feel both weary and uncomfortable.

Even so, this show intrigued me because I would like to be doing what these reality-show contestants are doing. I don’t want to marry a millionaire, I don’t want to undergo a bunch of endurance tests on a desert island, I don’t want to be an ultimate fighter, but working for Martha Stewart is kind of a dream job. What this show is making me realize, though, is that working for Martha Stewart means working with people, and people are a pain in the ass. This show is reminding me just how much I like working from my kitchen home office.

Primarius, the “corporate” team (like you couldn’t tell they were corporate from the painfully cheesy, “aspirational” name they invented for themselves), has, so far, done an admirable job with the assignments they’ve been given. I cringe when I hear such words as “focus group” and “outsourcing,” but those suits really have got their shit together. I still wouldn’t want to work with them, though—I really do cringe when people use business-speak, and business people don’t like that—and watching their efficient, organized operation makes for incredibly uninteresting television.

The “creative” team, Matchstick, is a bunch of crybabies and contrarians and prima donnas, which means, of course, that they producers give them at least twice as much airtime as the competition. I realize that conflict is the goal of reality TV, but conflict is only as entertaining as the people involved in it, and this is nothing more than a bunch of emotional toddlers having temper tantrums. Jim—this show’s Puck—isn’t intriguingly nefarious or delightfully wicked or even hilariously offensive: He’s just a tool.

It’s a shame the producers cast an idiotic, coked-up (OK, probably not, but he certainly does give one the impression) douchebag to sow discord, because they have access to someone many members of the viewing public already love to hate: la Martha herself. The show really only comes alive when she’s on screen, and I think we’d see some Dynasty-style melodrama if she interacted more with her would-be protégés. On last night’s episode, one loser tried to distance herself from the latest Matchstick fiasco by telling Martha that she was so ashamed by their performance that she wanted to cry. Ms. Stewart rewarded her with a positively icy look and smoothly replied, “Cry and you’re out of here. Women in business don’t cry, my dear.”

It was chilling. It was real. It was a very good thing.

September 29, 2005 | Permalink

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