In a not very special episode of blossoms, ''The Apprentice: Martha Stewart'' makes the wan wannabes set up flower shops
The Apprentice: Martha Stewart

The Apprentice: Martha Stewart

”The Apprentice: Martha”: The bloom is off

I hate to be the one to say it, but The Apprentice: Martha Stewart needs to adopt the USA network’s motto: ”Characters welcome.” Or better still, tweak it to ”Characters needed. Desperately.”

I went into the fall TV season with Martha’s prime-time reality show ranked as one of my most eagerly awaited freshman series. But after two episodes, I’d be hard-pressed to remember the names of more than a handful of the 16 contestants, even if Martha herself were threatening to pour a scalding vat of crawfish over my head.

For those of you who haven’t been watching Stewart’s addictive daytime talk show, Martha, I’ll explain the shellfish reference: Last week, Martha introduced guests Liza Minnelli and Ben Vereen to what appeared to be a few hundred frisky, live crustaceans, several of which were spilling out of a giant container and crawling across the show’s kitchen set. As Minnelli and Vereen spouted bizarre non sequiturs and talked about a Hurricane Katrina benefit headlined by Rue McClanahan and Jack Klugman, Martha, in all her warm-icy glory, stayed on message, delivering a recipe for crawfish boil with a mixture of amusement, befuddlement, and, quite possibly, suppressed rage. It was riveting television, a gold-medal contender in the Awkward Olympics. And the end result looked darn tasty, too.

The Apprentice: Martha Stewart, on the other hand, hasn’t mined its star’s surprising comedic potential, nor her reputation for being a fearsome taskmaster; hasn’t provided any insights into the worlds of cooking, organizing, or home decor; and worst of all, has failed to cough up a single watercooler moment. If all we’re going to get is a reheated version of Donald Trump’s recipe — accompanied by a bunch of melba-toast players — then really, what’s there to chew on?

While writing this TV Watch, in fact, I needed to go to the show’s official website just to jog my memory about the 14 players left in the game. And you know what? Even with visual aids, I still couldn’t recall a single interesting comment that’s come from the mouths of Carrie, David, Dawna, Jennifer, Leslie, Sarah, or Shawn. What’s worse, I’m starting to wonder if you need high-definition TV to see Ryan and Amanda, because, in all seriousness, I don’t think I’ve ever spotted these people on my screen. Meanwhile, Bethenny (who used to date the son of Martha’s cigar-wielding sidekick, Charles Koppelman), Marcela (who’s made a favorable impression with only a few seconds’ camera time), and Howie (who comes across as both likeable and smart) are too thinly sketched at this point to allow me to draw any real conclusions.

That leaves us with idiotic Dawn and indescribably repugnant Jim (both from team Matchstick) as the only remaining wannabes who’ve made a real impression. Dawn’s big contribution to this week’s task — trying to launch a Manhattan flower shop — was slipping on a black cocktail dress, parading around the streets of Manhattan after nightfall, and trying to drum up business from male passersby. Hey, Dawn, why not just hire local street prostitutes to tout those Dutch tulips during their downtime? Or, at the very least, hire a trio of hot chicks, dress ’em up like milkmaids, and leave them on an abandoned corner to drum up business. Oh, wait, Matchstick actually did the latter? Nice. Or, as Martha so tastefully understated her opinion, ”I think it’s real tacky.”

As for Jim, while I initially agreed with Marcela’s observation — ] ”I know how he feels about gratuitous cruelty: He likes it.” — I’ve grown to suspect the little worm is more interested in airtime than in landing an actual position with Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. I mean, the guy audibly sighed as Martha ran off a list of flower species available on her website. Um, Jim, somebody just doesn’t fit in among the ”delphinium, allium, dahlias, and even the wonderful chartreuse euphorbia,” as your prospective boss described them. Moreover, Jim’s gloating over Jeff’s ouster and his expressed desire to cure his team’s ”cancer” by eliminating Dawn were so far over the top they lacked any genuine bite.

Primarius also took a decidedly non-Martha approach to their task (albeit with far better results) by handing the reins to a ”celebrity florist” named Rene Somethingorother. (Yep, you’re right, I’m not going to go look it up. Over the years, and with a little help from RuPaul, I’ve learned to embrace the term ”supermodel,” and I can kinda deal with the idea of a ”celebrity chef.” But ”celebrity florist”? We’ve got to draw the line somewhere, people.)

Now if only we knew how exactly Primarius compensated Rene for his involvement: I know they were supposed to mark up the dude’s prices to score a profit, but when Howie started pushing for lower prices, did the florist agree to waive his fee in exchange for prominent TV face time? And, if so, wouldn’t that upset the fairness of the competition?

Not that I care, really. I mean, I want to care. But I have bigger questions that need answers, so help me out here: Why did tonight’s challenge feel like something that could have easily gone down on the Donald’s program tomorrow? More important, why are the two shows’ formats so similar? Wouldn’t it have been more fun tonight if all 15 players were duking it out for individual survival, and Martha had given each of ’em $50 and five hours to put together a gorgeous floral arrangement? Then, she and her cronies could have picked the three worst and forced those contestants to defend their work or get sent packing. As it actually turned out, Chuck, the one guy with a smidgen of floral design experience, got the boot. Now if I could just remember what he looked like, and if he said anything interesting the last two weeks. Whatever.

What did you think of tonight’s episode? Did you find Chuck’s near quit as appalling as Martha did? Do you have any early favorites among the cast? Or will you simply be switching next week to America’s Next Top Model?

The Apprentice: Martha Stewart
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