Blood on the office floor


TV REVIEW: The ApprenticeTV3, Monday; The FrontlineRTÉ1, Monday;  One to OneRTÉ1, Monday; Government information broadcast on the LisbonTreatyRTÉ, daily

Yes, season two of TV3’s The Apprentice has hit the screens, and if the jury was a little undecided last year as to Irish entrepreneur Bill Cullen’s saleability and television appeal in the role that commercial messiah Alan Sugar has made his tetchy, lisping own on the BBC, let there be no further doubt: Moore Street boy and self-made man Cullen takes no prisoners. “Do you know what I am saying? Do you feel my aggravation? Youse are still in denial here – this is an action station where innovation is demanded on a daily basis. You’re fired! You are fired!” Yessir, Mr Cullen, sir, and three bags full.

This second season of The Apprentice, coming at a time when the cruel winds of recession are whipping around our ankles, is certain to arouse considerable interest. Suddenly the prospect of that package (however it might be boxed) looks pretty alluring. And those 14 snivelling candidates, their necks twitching with discomfort inside their starched collars, who by their very presence have the temerity to suggest that they belong in the six-figure-salary pantheon, are like juicy Christians thrown to the lions of our growling collective discontent.

Formerly, when some arrogant boy-child, his gelled spikes wilting under the arc of the television lamps, told the camera that “I am a battle-hardened dynamo who is chomping at the bit to land this job, and I have a Harvard-calibre intelligence to back up my claim”, you simply scoffed into your gin and tonic, shrugged back your hair extensions and flicked over to the shopping channel. Now such aerated claims coming from some truculent toddler remind you of those greedy whiz-kids who chewed up your pension fund along with their Liga. Their whole schtick has become just that bit harder to swallow. The net result of our ire, however, is the wish to trail these wannabe kings of commerce across the television screen (and watch them humiliate themselves by failing to sell ice-creams on the streets of the capital on just about the only truly hot day of last summer).

The unassailable fact is that The Apprenticeis extremely enjoyable television, and all the better for Cullen’s bullish confidence, not to mention the thinly veiled ridiculousness of the majority of the candidates. The men’s team, who have collectively named themselves “Cuchulainn” (try spelling that over the telephone to a receptionist in Beijing), were particularly entertaining, eliciting from their mentor Purcell the observation that “they’re an absolute bloody disaster, beating their chests like bloody gorillas”. These, though, were gorillas who talked loud and long about “footfall” and “activation on the streets”, and who ended up being swung around the boardroom by Cullen.

Personally, although the boys failed to win the first task (of more or less giving the ice-creams away on the arid streets), I liked their imaginative approach to the English language. In their manically heightened state of self-importance, the sentences coming out of their eager mouths included the phrases “the vagueity of his questions” and “not a well-choreographered meeting”. Indeed, chaps.

PAT KENNY was back on the box this week, returning at long last to his comfort zone of current affairs. And how good it was to welcome him in from the cold of turgid Friday-night entertainment, where weekly he morphed into chat-show Pat, a persona that consistently seemed to fail him when he was fronting the all-devouring Late Late Show.

News and politics, however, have always been Kenny’s strong points, hence his devoted morning radio following; his new sinecure, The Frontline, which aims to instigate debate between selected guests and a studio audience on the biggest news stories of the week is, on the evidence of the first programme, tailor-made for Kenny’s talents.

The inaugural rabbit pulled from the shabby topical hat for public broiling was the pink-eyed and patchy Nama. The debate on the hoary little beast included lively contributions from, among others scattered throughout the studio audience, Fintan O’Toole and Eamon Dunphy. O’Toole pointed out that around four billion euro would cover the cost of rolling out broadband across the country, assisting businesses nationwide, while the €30 billion we are giving Nama has no such obvious payoff.

Dunphy, meanwhile, with characteristic and in this case enthusiastically applauded ferocity, suggested that “we cannot give money to the people who have landed us in this hole”. He was not alone in calling for a change of culture among bankers, but it was pure Dunphy when he called for “a public inquiry to be screened daily on TG4”.

By the time the Minister for Finance, Brian Lenihan, arrived on Kenny’s glisteningly impressive set to replace the uncomfortable-looking Pat Farrell of the Irish Banking Federation and the implacable Tom Parlon of the Construction Industry Federation, the audience, largely made up of small business people who now find themselves drowning in a sea of debt and anxiety, were in no mood to get back in their box. Although proceedings, under Kenny’s deftly well-informed baton, remained civil, there was a palpable sense of anger and resentment towards a Government that many seemed to feel had allowed the banks to indulge in “casino capitalism”.

The economy is one issue that will run and run, and it’s difficult to imagine that Kenny, in his entirely successful new role, will be allowed to debate much else in the months to come.

MAKING A DELICATE leap (in dramatically fetching purple tights) from morning radio to night-time TV, Áine Lawlor has joined her colleague Kenny on the other side of the national broadcaster’s tracks. Lawlor, who is a terrific and notably well-informed interviewer, is back on the box with a series of in-depth conversations, One to One, the first of which was with playwright and author Sebastian Barry, author of the Costa Award-winning The Secret Scripture.

Lawlor, calm and assured, created the mood for some fascinating discourse, during which Barry talked about his work, its sources and the mystery, in his experience, of being a writer (“the more I go on with it, the stranger I seem to myself”).

Although he made no claim to be a “connoisseur of happiness”, Barry spoke of the last few years of his life with his family (wife Ali and three children) as having been, despite the often dark subject matter of his books, “a happy time”. “[It is] lifted beyond materialism to a strange religiosity, earning money, [when] by the mere contents of your brain you’ve managed to engender family life,” he said.

In these days of economic gloom, as we sit down to count the cost of excess, Barry’s words rang with a gentle pride and realism. Don’t expect too much more of that as we steady ourselves to dive into Nama’s toxic seas.

Terylene heaven The fantasy world of the Government's Lisbon 'infomercial'

Nice to see career opportunities opening up in these nervy days. Factories may be closing and small businesses going to the wall, but at least a handful of well-scrubbed knitwear-model types have been gainfully employed appearing in a Government information broadcast, which asks “What do you know about Lisbon?”.

Whatever optimist was responsible for this shiny happy capsule of debatable data is surviving on an entirely different planet from the rest of us. The broadcast’s depiction of contented-looking workers in Terylene polo shirts, with their sparkling hard hats and gleaming fork-lifts, and robust curiosity shining from their prettily shaved faces, shows a society which, if it ever did exist, is most certainly “with O’Leary in the grave”, as the Yeats poem goes.

“What do you know about Lisbon?” asked the mellow voiceover. The answer to that came trippingly off the tongue, but is probably unprintable.