Review: NBC’s The Apprentice Returns to Its Roots

No spoilers.

While The Celebrity Apprentice has done well for NBC on Sundays these past two seasons, it merely continued the franchise’s slide in quality.

The Apprentice, when it first premiered, was poised to join the reality elite with Survivor and The Amazing Race; deserved Emmy nominations for its first seasons. It was fresh in the early years of reality-competition genre with all the standard drama required but with the lure of the corporate business world.

Now six years later, we’re in a recession and we’ve all soured on corporate America.

It couldn’t have been a more perfect time for NBC and Donald Trump to bring back original flavor Apprentice.

Possibly hoping for some goodwill from the business world, Trump hopes to give opportunities to those hit hardest by the recession. Qualified professionals unemployed and looking for work.

Noble enough on the surface. And after three celeb editions that further lost what made The Apprentice great, non-guilty pleasure television, going back to the franchise’s roots was the perfect way to bring the show back.

Donald Trump is Donald Trump. You’re not going to change him, he’ll continue to bash The Amazing Race and use publicity to drum up interest in whatever project he’s working on now.

But what made him such an engaging personality when The Apprentice first started and the limiting of his presence on the show is back with this new season.

Two hours has always been too long for The Apprentice since it always meant over-extended boardrooms. And while the boardroom can be the most drama-filled segment of the episode, there is a great balance in the first few non-supersized seasons that upped the excitement and provided for tighter storytelling.

We’ll have to wait and see next week when it slips into its regular 10pm, one-hour slot. But this week’s premiere was a good refresher for those who maybe have tuned out of the series over the years.

The premise is simple. Two teams are given a business-related task. One person steps up or is pushed into being the leader or Project Manager and they get going. Trump’s “eyes and ears” during the task are his children, Donald Jr. and Ivanka (don’t you miss Carolyn Keptcher and Bob Ross?) who visit the teams in the middle of the task. The winner each week is decided through judging (by Trump or the rep of a specific company they are working for this week) or on cold hard numbers. Then the losing teams heads into the boardroom where they throw each other under the bus, gang up on the easy target and one of them gets fired.

Personalities within the candidates are already popping out of the screen as well and we see that there will be no shortage of big, loud mouths. Though there appears to be no twists or tweaks to the basic format, that might turn out to be a good thing.

Though it would be nice to spruce up the format after all these years, keeping it basic and simple and yes, taking the series back to its roots, could be enough to draw viewers back in.

A good season premiere and potential for The Apprentice franchise to reclaim the glory of the first two seasons. For now, I’m in.

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