There’s an old phrase that no one uses in my house, but they should: never mix reality television and social affairs.
Many critics have simply branded C4’s The Intern “The Apprentice by another name”. But for me, it was more than that.
I must admit, I found the idea of a job search mixed with hilarious Beadle’s About-style stunts an entertaining idea for a television show. And the fact that it was fronted by Dragons’ Den’s sartorial enigma Hilary Devey lent even more appeal to the format. But once I’d watched it, behind the laughter, there was a serious point: these young kids are desperate for a start in life.
Channel 4 framed the programme (through a concerned Devey) with shocking figures about the millions of unemployed – and the particular problems for those under 24. This was the show’s supposed raison d’être, to highlight the problem and give youngsters hope. To help give a hand-up, not a handout, to Britain’s youth.
Then the really heartbreaking part. We met three young people – good people – who just needed a break. One was a young mother determined to build a career after having a child at 20, another a university graduate who’d found it impossible to get work. The third was a studious hard worker with 100 applications under his belt and not one interview.
What better way to tackle this crippling problem in Britain’s youth than… to make the three battle against each other in a wacky game show. Whoever can keep the straightest face while suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous acting from jobbing thespians (and Made in Chelsea stars) would win the ultimate prize: a trainee manager job at a hotel.
Devey told us that the stunts were required to test the mettle of the candidates and to assure her (and the hotel boss) that these kids could make the grade in the hard and fast world of high-end hospitality. Similarly, the candidates in The Apprentice need to be able to direct a TV advert or sell second hand cars to prove they can be a good coffee-maker in Alan Sugar’s office.
But The Apprentice is primarily idiotic estate agents and business berks looking to elevate their already over-inflated salaries and egos. The Intern’s stars were actually in need of help. They were living on benefits, or with their parents. They were not full of bravado. They were not people television should be toying with for our entertainment.
If we televised homeless people racing each other down Tottenham Court Road to win a night at a hostel there would be outrage – why is our disenfranchised youth fair game?
What were young people watching the show meant to take away from it? That finding stable employment is about as likely as winning a prize on a reality TV show, so they might as well kneel before another out-of-touch television personality, motivated by money and self-promotion, as their last best hope?
Why did The Intern mention that a hotel manager can earn up to £150,000? Is a job only worth having if it can lead to becoming part of the financial elite? Wouldn’t it be better to promote the satisfaction of doing something you’re good at, rather than peddling the myth that there is a golden ticket for us all and one day you will be rich and be driven around in a Rolls-Royce with personalised number plates, like Hilary Devey?
Somewhere in this show is an attempt to do good. But along the line it’s descended into nothing more than a game show fronted by a Dragon, and a cruel and pointless one at that.