Sunday, 15 March 2009

Toy story

Comic Relief Does The Apprentice
TX date: 12th March 2009

While we eagerly await the release of the line-up for the new series, the inevitable celeb charity spinoff has arrived to keep us entertained. The girls have won the previous two editions, but can they make it a hat trick? Let's find out.

London porn. 'Dance of the Knights'. So far so formulaic. Voiceover Mark informs us that this year's celebs come from the world of comedy (Jack Dee), entertainment (Jonathan Ross), journalism (Fiona Phillips, and the implication that she is a serious journalist provides the first giant laugh of the night from me) and business (Michelle Moan, sigh). There's the mention of some of the country's best-loved celebrities, at which point we see Carol Vorderman and Patsy Palmer. Okay, here's the rundown: fashion guru Gok Wan, who says he will be competitive, comedian and presenter Ruby Wax, who vows to "bite anyone who gets in front of me", comedian Alan Carr, who is a self-proclaimed bitch. And they are the only three who get VT time. Seems a bit unfair, especially as Gerald Ratner has had absolutely no screentime in this bit at all [To be fair, what would his screentime say? 'Remember me, I used to be a great businessman, but then I said my stock was crap and that was the end of that. I'm basically Rory Laing on an epic scale.' - Rad]. Then we get shots of Sralan, all of which are taken from last series, such as "you went out and lost me bladdy money", like they think we don't remember that. He reads the financial pages in a helicopter, as you do. And then, to whet our appetites, some preview clips: Michelle and Patsy having this year's obligatory catfight, Jack telling Jonathan to keep it brief, Gok telling people in the car that for every negative thing they say, they must say two positive things (the first indication that Gok and I are not going to get on AT ALL) [Ugh. We have posters at work demanding we do the same in a 'feedback sandwich'. For some, my backhanded positivity extends to writing 'interesting' and 'unique' - Rad]. Then a replay of last year's "you're fired/you're fired/you're a total shambles, you're fired" montage. Okay, here we go!

The ten celebrities anxiously await the summons to the boardroom from NotFrances. When it comes, they rise and walk in with some amount of trepidation. Nick and Margaret are already there, and the celebrities take a seat (and as usual, there aren't enough seats, so Jack and Fiona stand), and eventually Sralan enters irascibly. Actually, I'm not really sure how you can enter a room irascibly, but just assume that the adverb "irascibly" applies every time Sralan does something tonight and you won't go too far wrong. Sralan greets the celebrities and thanks them for giving up their valuable time. He informs them curtly that this is a different world to the "kissy kissy, lovey lovey, huggy huggy, love it darling" world of celebrity, as though the previous two celebrity editions of this show weren't entirely dependent on whoever had the richest friends available to air-kiss in order to bring in cash. Sralan asks Carol what "three to the power of three take away seven" is, and Carol takes a surprisingly long time to work it out, but I'll give her the benefit of the doubt since this is probably a rather heart-pounding scenario to be in. And then Sralan asks Alan what the first letter of the alphabet is, just to prove that the camp comic has a brain. How lovely. Sralan informs the celebs that one of them will be fired, though from what he doesn't actually say, since there's obviously no actual job on offer tonight. He introduces Michelle Moan, who will be assisting the ladies' team on matters of business, and Gerald "cheap shit" Ratner, who will be doing the same for the men. Gosh, I wonder who the project managers will be?

The task this time is to design a toy for children aged 5-8; and then to come up with packing and an ad campaign, and present it to a room full of advertising gurus. If the winning team's toy is brilliant, someone might license the product to sell in aid of Comic Relief. Is it just me, or does that seem like a rather big "if"? Like, if the winning product is shit, Comic Relief will actually not benefit from this show in any way? As tired as I was getting of the whole "throw a fundraiser, and whoever knows the richest person wins" celebrity tasks, at least they were guaranteed to make money for the cause. Ruby likes the idea, anyway.

Things are being switched up this year - Margaret followed the men's team on the previous two years, and they lost both times, so this year she will be following the women, and Nick will follow the men. "Nick looks more cross, though," complains Jonathan. Whatever: Margaret may not make mock-stern faces in the boardroom, she's still a way more fearsome adversary than Nick is. Sralan asks Gok if he could do a makeover on Nick. Gok's obvious response is "I'd like to see if he looks good naked," which is apparently the funniest thing Carol has ever heard, but far funnier for me is the fact that it appears to take Nick a good 30 seconds to get this reference, which suggests he has ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA WHO GOK WAN IS. Hee. Sralan wishes the teams luck, and sends them on their way.

They will have three days to design and pitch their toy. In the cab, Gok suggests getting on the phone to Hamley's and speaking to their marketing director to find out what's selling right now. Whether anyone actually does this in the end is never actually made clear. The girls drive past in their cab and Alan makes obscene gestures at them. In the ladycab, Patsy says the trick to success is in believing that you have already won. They will be based in the Mayfair hotel, which is very lovely indeed - I've not stayed there, but I went there for a preview screening once and it has very nice toilets. So at least we know these people will be pissing and shitting in the utmost of luxury for three days, and isn't that what really matters here?

The first thing Jonathan does is challenge Gok to a spacehooper race, except he calls him "Wok", and I hate to be the PC brigade here, but I can't have been the only one who thought that sounded slightly racially insensitive [Uh-oh, Steven, have you just inadvertently started another tabloid scandal? - Rad]. They race, and Jonathan cheats. By contrast, the women are having a very professional discussion about who should be PM, wherein Carol nominates Michelle. Michelle warns them all that she will be a pain in the backside. "You have no idea!" she says. Oh, Michelle. If they've ever watched You're Fired, I'm sure they'll have an inkling. She says that she'll force them all to stay up all night if it's what the job needs to get done. "That's what we need! You're doing it!" says Patsy, as Hubris arrives and helps itself to coffee and biscuits. Michelle confessionalises that she has OCD - "the real entrepreneurs are born with it, but a lot of us are psychos," she admits. And I have to give her credit for that degree of self-awareness.

Meanwhile, the men are now making the same decision. Jonathan and Gok would both like to be PM, while Jack proposes Gerald for PM because none of the rest of them have experience in seeing a project through from start to finish. Alan worries that Jonathan would be too enthusiastic a PM. Gerald says that he's happy to be PM unless anyone else really wants to do it. Gerald confessionalises that there are a lot of comedians on the team, "which is good because I like laughing." This statement is made in probably the most dour voice you've ever heard, which gives it a whole new level of unintentional comedy.

Gok thinks yo-yos are a timeless product which will always be on trend; Jonathan argues that they are not innovative. Jonathan's idea is about aliens coming from another planet, travelling through the universe helping other planets in need, with the possibility of add-on products like livestock and nurses' uniforms. The inside of Jonathan's head must be a very interesting place. Gerald points out that companies who sell products of that nature throw £200m-odd pounds at them, and they shouldn't try to compete with that kind of financial muscle. Jonathan compromises that they they need to come up with a product that they're all comfortable with that they can sell, and confessionalises that he is very persuasive and Jack or Gerald need to stick up to him if he gets a head of steam going. Because Alan and Gok are both homosexuals and therefore fundamentally incapable of standing up to a red-blooded breeder.

Team Lady: they are brainstorming when Patsy suggests a kind of outfit that the kids put on which makes funny noises when they hug each other. Ruby upgrades this to a suit made of velcro which makes the kids stick to each other - an idea that goes down very well.

Team Man: the idea is now a belt with little collectable figures dangling off it that kids can buy individually. Gerald wants it to be leather, and no one else agrees - the common consensus seems to be that it should be plastic.

At 2pm, the teams split up to do some research. In the back of the cab with Jack and Jonathan, Old Man Gerald says that when he was younger, he just played with lead soldiers. Understandably, he receives several comments of the "well, problem solved!" mocking variety. "Just a bar of lead," suggests Jonathan. "You can hit people with it, you can suck it..." "If you suck lead, you would die," says Gerald. Yes, Gerald. That was the joke.

Patsy and Fiona go off to do a focus group with a bunch of adorable moppets, whom they patronise moderately. Once they explain what velcro is to the children, the kids seem quite keen on the idea of the velcro suit. Meanwhile, Ruby, Carol and Michelle are going off to meet the designers. Fiona and Patsy feed back from the focus group, and they decide to go for the velcro suit idea. Michelle says they need to come up with creative ideas and "build on the brand". Steady on, Michelle.

Jack, Gerald and Jonathan go to Staines (this isn't said out loud on the show, but I totally recognise it) and look at collectable mini-figures in bubblegum-style vending machines outside a branch of The Entertainer. Jonathan and Jack corner a small boy in the shop to ask him what he thinks of their idea. Just one small boy, you'll note, as opposed to Fiona and Patsy's focus group of about ten. "So it's basically a swap belt?" says the boy. Jonathan says that they'd been planning on calling the toys Clip-Its, but the team seems to like "swap belt" better, even though it's about the least exciting brand name they could've possibly come up with.

At 5pm, Ruby, Carol and Michelle meet with the toy designers in Windsor. They play around with velcro. Michelle says that the pack needs to come with two suits, which is a good point - there's not really much point in only having one. She also says to the design team that they need to find the most cost-effective way of making the product, that will enable them and the retailer to make a profit. I mean, I'm sure the designers know this because presumably that's the same of any product they'd be making, but it's good that she has actually remembered this point, as we shall see later. Their estimated price is £15-£20, which seems to be around the price that similar products are selling for. Ruby is cross that this is for Comic Relief, because she could've actually made some money out of this. Heh.

Jonathan, Jack and Gerald are meeting with their designers to make the Swap Belt. There is some uncertainty over the cost of the product - the designer cautions that they would need to be making them in massive quantities, and Gerald is unsure that they can make them in sufficient quantities to be financially viable. "Too late now! We're committed!" says Jonathan. Gerald confessionalises that he is worried, because he doesn't want to end up with the wrong product and ultimately fail.

9pm. The teams head back to London. "You've got your Swap Belt, and your Swap Characters," says Gerald in the cab. Jonathan suggests they need something pithier than "Swap Characters", having apparently missed that "Swap Belt" is just as uninspired. Suggestions (all from Jonathan) include swappers, swippers and slappers. Sigh. "If they get stolen, I suppose that's swaplifting," observes Jack drily.

Day 2. The toys arrive from the design company, and the women are very excited by their product Stick Stuck, which is almost as exciting a brand name as Swap Belt. Patsy thinks her kids would love it. The men are also excited by theirs, but worried that they only have a belt and some design boards - no actual toys to hang from the belt. Crisis averted, however, when it turns out that Alan accidentally discarded the toys with the excess packaging. This bodes well, doesn't it? Jonathan suggests Alan should be fired. They admire the toys. "What little girl isn't going to want to have Mippy the Space Bunny hanging off her belt?" asks Jonathan. What little girl indeed.

Today is the day for commercial making, and Jonathan is directing for the chaps, with Jack assisting. Jack observes that there was never any chance that Jonathan would not direct the commercial himself. "I wouldn't be surprised if a cigar comes out by the end of the day," he says. Patsy is directing from the ladies, with Fiona assisting. She is planning to get as much help as possible from the camerapeople.

Jack and Jonathan film their commercial at a house in west London. No one appears to have booked Sian Lloyd to appear so far, but it's early days. Jack appears to be doing most of the logistical work, while Jonathan shows off the toys to the kids. At Patsy's shoot, the kids are enjoying playing with the Stick Stuck suits, which is a good sign. Fiona confessionalises that as soon as they put the suits on, the kids started laughing and giggling, but she doesn't want to get too complacent, as it could still all go wrong.

Gok, Gerald and Alan go to a recording studio to come up with their jingle. Alan raps their jingle, which is every bit as ludicrous as you might imagine. "We've lost! We've lost!" crows Gok, but he's laughing. The three of them are pretty much hysterical by the end. Back at the commercial shoot, we see Jack's notes from the day entitled "Jonathan's Opus". Hee. There is some disagreement about one of the shots. "Bear in mind that this is an establishing shot to get into the longer shot," says Jonathan, clearly mentally composing his BAFTA acceptance speech. "It'd be good if it was a nice shot," crabs Jack. Jack has probably got the worst job out of everyone at this point. Poor Jack.

Meanwhile, Ruby, Carol and Michelle record their jingle. Michelle is not used to being in a recording studio. They chant "stick! stuck!" and Michelle dissolves into giggles almost immediately and cannot recover. "It's an early menopause," Carol explains.

The teams are preparing their presentations at County Hall, where they must theme and dress their rooms. Gok and Gerald are disappointed that theirs is so small. "Everyone knows me as the stylist and the design person, so I feel I've got to reinvent Gucci," confessionalises Gok. He's not short of ideas, anyway. But then he starts to whine, "I don't know what they've got in the prop houses, I don't know what they've got in the costumiers, everyone thinks I can just rustle up 25,000 outfits and deck out a space in about three-and-a-half minutes, and I'm feeling a little bit annoyed now. I'm not happy." Yes, heaven forfend people should think that the man known for his design skills actually be put to work on the design part of the task. And nothing that we saw from Alan or Gerald suggested that they were putting any kind of pressure on him whatsoever, so I think the "everyone expects me to be INSTANTLY FABULOUS" drama was probably concocted entirely in Gok's head.

Bitchy cab ride, on the way to Cricklewood, which is where Gok invokes the "say one thing negative, say two things positive rule". If I were Alan or Gerald, I think one of my positives would be "for every minute I spend stuck in this traffic jam, it is at least one minute off the total of the number of minutes I have to spend with Gok before I can go home."

Ruby, Michelle and Carol go prop shopping. Let's just say that some of the costumes they try out are not exactly suitable for presenting a children's toy. Michelle's inner shame kicks in quite quickly, but Ruby's having none of it: "it's for kids! It's for Africa!" They do end up buying some things which seem to be mannequin limbs, and then Ruby can't open the door to get out.

Gok, Alan and Gerald shop for their own costumes and props. Gok is looking for things on a princess theme: "if Jordan were to throw up, it's what would come out." Silicone? Collagen? Bile? Gok continues to annoy, having given his list of requirements: "Is that cool? I'm beginning to feel a bit stressed out about it." I'm sure the woman taking your order does not give one tiny shit about your stress levels, Gok. Still, to his credit, he has a very clear idea of what he wants. In the cab on the way back, Gerald and Alan needle Gok by sarcastically claiming he's not pulling his weight. This would probably work better if either of them had been seen to do anything whatsoever on the outfit-shopping trip.

Day 3 is upon us, and the teams have eight hours left before they have to present their new toys. Ruby, Carol and Michelle are dressing the girls' room. Apparently the legs are to sit on the tables as centrepieces. Michelle is working out a presentation schedule down to the nanosecond. Patsy and Fiona are back in the hotel making costumes, and Patsy is complaining that they aren't getting to do anything exciting. Fiona, sensibly, is not getting involved beyond the occasional "mmm" and "yeah". Patsy whinges that obviously they've been correctly deployed in this task "because you're not really a presenter and I'm not really an actress." Patsy? When you are making Fiona Phillips look like the calm, mature, sane person in a partnership, something is very wrong.

At the hotel, Jack and Jonathan are preparing their pitch. Well, to be strictly honest: Jack is preparing the pitch, and Jonathan is being Jonathan. Jonathan freestyles a variety of "comedy" bits to work the room, eventually asking Jack what he thinks. "For the last five minutes, I haven't been listening to you," Jack replies.

Gok dresses the dancers for their presentation as children's storybook characters. Alan assists. That's pretty much all that happens in this scene. Next!

Jack prepares the presentation, while Jonathan: belches in his ear, tightrope-walks along the back of the sofa, fires a toy gun at him, falls asleep on an inflatable chair, and lounges on the sofa. That Jack does not at any point lamp him one is a testament to the true power of human patience. I wouldn't have lasted five minutes before battering him to death with a Bob The Builder.

Fiona and Patsy arrive at County Hall with their costumes, and Patsy is to choreograph the dancers. Michelle tells her they have to be out of the room in one hour. In probably the most classless moment of the entire show, Patsy confessionalises about how fed up she is with Michelle while standing a maximum of about two metres away from her, and she's clearly not making any effort to keep her voice down. Yeah, that's professional.

And so Michelle and Patsy have their bust-up, which stems from Michelle The OCD Psycho repeatedly telling Patsy that she needs to go and sort out a routine with the dancers while Patsy The Tantrum Throwing Teenager insists that she knows that and is in fact in the middle of it. It is the most pointless argument ever, and both of them are acting like assholes, but Michelle emerges from the whole thing with slightly less credibility than she went in with because of her outright determination to have the last word. And since her final assertion to Patsy that she has one hour with which to sort out the dancers is met with a clipped "piss off!", she doesn't even manage that. This, by the way, is pretty much exactly how you don't do conflict resolution, on both sides. And then Patsy bitches to the dancers and decides she's going to walk out. Fiona tries to stop her, but Patsy's having none of it. Margaret looks unimpressed. "You can't top this, can you?" confessionalises Ruby. "We just need a few more people here to be on the girls' team otherwise I'll be alone with a couple of mirrors so it looks like there's a crowd."

Jack and Jonathan arrive at County Hall, with Jack kvetching that Jonathan has wasted the morning. "I think I've done exactly what was required of me," Jonathan. Oh, if looks could kill. Gok prepares the dancers.

Elsewhere, Patsy prepares her own dancers and there is an uneasy truce with Michelle. Patsy confessionalises that she was ready to leave, but then she called her husband who reminded her how much this all meant to her. Translation: she called her husband who pointed out she'd look like a bint of epic proportion if she walked out on a charity TV show. We see the routine, and it is actually pretty cute. The team gives Patsy a round of applause. Michelle thinks they're going to win based on their presentation, their product and their commercial.

Bigwigs of all kinds arrive at County Hall, where the men's team will be the first to present their pitch. Jonathan leads the pitch, and they show their commercial. The commercial is okay, I guess - it's not the most sophisticated advert I've ever seen, but given the amount of time they had to prepare it, it's capable enough. The price, incidentally, is £7.99 for the belt, which includes a free "Swappy" worth £1.50. Jonathan explains that kids like to collect and swap, and they like trends - the fact that the belt doesn't look good with only one swappy on it provides the incentive to buy more trinkets.

Gerald takes over to talk numbers, and gets off to a poor start by saying "profit is sanity, turnover itself is just vanity", a saying he attributes to Sralan, but which Sralan corrects him from the crowd was actually uttered by "some schmuck on Dragons' Den." PRESENTATION FAIL. Gerald says they are hoping kids will buy 40 or 50 swappies. They show off the characters for the belt, with names like Princess Chakhra and Bootay. Someone in the crowd asks how many they'll need to sell to get it to craze proportions. Gerald says it will be a "shit or bust" product, which is ill-advised, explaining that it will either fall flat on its face or really take off. Wow, that just fills you with confidence, doesn't it? [Proving his PR skills haven't exactly improved in the last 20 years, there - Rad] Backstage, they think they really nailed it.

The women prepare for their presentation, which Ruby and Carol are doing, attired in bright blue and pink wigs. They've had their own adult-sized costumes manufactured for the purposes of the presentation. The whole thing is deliberately very stilted, but still awkward in the wrong sort of way. Apparently they've now turned it into some kind of Twister ripoff where you roll a dice to tell you which part of your partner's body you have to attach a limb to. I dunno, I think they're overcomplicating it - just get kids to put the suit on and throw themselves at each other, I reckon that's all you need. [See, I thought the Twister idea was good, but clearly it's only me and the team that think that way - Rad] Their commercial is no more sophisticated than the men's, but does at least do a slighty better job of explaining the point of their product. Theirs is priced at £14.99. A toy manufacturer called Mark suggests that young boys don't like to be intimate with their peers. Patsy says that when they filmed the advert, the boys didn't show any signs of hesitancy in putting the suits on and rubbing up against each other (there was no way of phrasing that that didn't sound wrong, I swear), but then queers her pitch by going "we're talking about babies! They shouldn't have a problem with intimacy," which is far too Oprah an answer for the question, and inexplicably merits a round of applause, and seriously, Patsy: five-to-eight year olds are not babies. A man sitting next to Margaret suggests the product is for 50- to 80-year olds. Fiona says that there's plenty of room for brand expansion. And then they end with their dancers, which just seems like really poor sequencing to me. They hug backstage, and now Sralan must decide who wins.

A little smidgen of London porn before the cars come to collect the teams from their hotels and take them to the boardroom. Jonathan says that if they lose, he's going to steal something from the boardroom for posterity, like Margaret. Michelle says she's taken this all very seriously, and is worried because she's never been fired before. Gok thinks the presentation went really well and they all played to their strengths. They arrive in the holding area, and NotFrances sends them in.

Sralan asks the ladies if they were pleased with their team manager. "Absolutely!" says Carol. "Not really, all the time," says Patsy, explaining that they didn't always think they were led very well. Sralan wonders if this is because she's not used to being told what to do. Patsy says that she doesn't mind that, but that half the time they didn't know what they were supposed to be doing, which is the opposite of the argument she had with Michelle at County Hall, so who even knows at this point? Michelle says she handled it to the best of her ability, and that Patsy wanted to work on her own. Carol says that she thinks they've got a fantastic product, and they had a great launch, and that was the business.

Sralan turns to the men, who think Gerald was a great team leader. Gerald says it was difficult to keep everyone under control because it's in Jonathan's nature to want to monopolise. Jonathan says that he felt utilised, and then compliments Sralan on his shirt. This does not wash with Sralan. Jack suggests firing whoever counts the chairs, "because both times I've been in here, I didn't get a chair, and Fiona's the same." Hee. Sralan says that one of the blokes from the toy company said that the product isn't marketable in its current form, because of the dice-throwing - that you should just put the suits on the kids and leave them to it. Also, the pink and blue theme was not wanted. Ruby says that they didn't want pink, and Sralan says that they should've said that last night.

Sralan turns to the boys, who are homing in on collectability which they know is big right now, because as Jack explains, between him and Gerald and Jonathan they have 10 children. (Gok and Alan don't have any, LOLGAY, and honestly, Jack, I thought you were above that.) Sralan presents a potential error here, in getting the product off the ground, because the items like that are very expensive to manufacture - a single-impression injection moulding tool costs around $60,000, and a multiple-moulding tool that makes several could cost around a quarter of a million USD. Given that they have 40-odd clip-on toys to manufacture, essentially this would make their business prohibitively expensive from a start-up point of view. Sralan, with the help of Carol's much-sharper-now mental arithmetic projects their net profit would be arond £210,000, which would not leave them much money for the necessary TV ad campaign to launch a craze of this nature. Jonathan admits they didn't cost it thoroughly enough. Sralan says that the task was to create a business with legs.

Sralan says that it's a very close-run thing, but after careful consideration of everything he'd been told by his associates in the toy manufacturing industry, the girls' product wins. Much celebratory cheering and hugging from Team Oestrogen. Jonathan congratulates them and the men clap, a little sadly. Sralan says that the winning team's treat is not having to work for him. He thanks them on behalf of Comic Relief and says that they are looking into getting the product manufactured. Carol suggests adult-sized versions as well, heh.

Sralan says that the boys lost because their proposition was not viable, and sends them out while he mulls it over with Nick and Margaret to decide who will get fired. Ruth will be on hand to recap that for you very soon! [Well, probably sometime tonight, as I am out all afternoon... but they kept us waiting forever for the result on the real night, so it's only fair to replicate the suspense - Rad]


Tiggerboy0301 said...

As usual, its a pleasure to read your thoughts.

sacred-sarcasm said...

Argh! I forgot you would be doing the sleb version - I came over to see your thoughts on the new load of losers hoping to get a dead-end job with Sralan :)

I thought Jonathon's sofa-walking was a tribute (probably not a deliberate one) where all the Simpsons except Bart are talking about some SRSBUSINESS and Bart gets bored and starts jumping on the sofa shouting 'HEY! I'm BART! LOOK AT ME! NOTICE ME!'.