Martha makes … nice?

With "The Apprentice: Martha Stewart," America's tastemaker makes like a kinder, gentler Trump. Bring back the real Martha!

Topics: Martha Stewart, Television,

Martha makes ... nice?

On paper, the idea of letting Martha Stewart host her own version of “The Apprentice” must have looked brilliant and fun, like one of those clever, beautiful crafts you’re always seeing in her magazines and TV shows and vowing to one day try to create yourself. The thing about those crafts, though, is that, inevitably, you screw up the implementation: You fold your origami picnic table backward, say, or end up creating a yarn flower that looks vaguely like a bloodstain. The endeavor often ends in failure, a sticky mess of glue, dried flowers, pipe cleaners — whatever the craft, pipe cleaners are always involved — and the heavy stink of personal failure.

Something similar seems to have occurred in the implementation phase of “The Apprentice: Martha Stewart,” which premiered Wednesday on NBC. In theory, Martha Stewart’s reality show should be brash, bold and original, like its host often is. But the reality doesn’t match the theory. Instead, Stewart’s new show is banal, sometimes boring and, worst of all, mostly just a retread of ground already well covered by its big brother, Donald Trump’s “The Apprentice” (the fourth season of which begins Thursday night). Indeed, Martha comes off, here, as Donald-lite: Where Trump is bellicose and hammy, Stewart is friendly and casual, as if instead of hosting a reality game show on network TV, she’s running an egg hunt for the girls at the prison in Alderson, W. Va. There’s no urgency to her tone, and there’s scarcely a rumor of suspense anywhere in the program; though sparks fly here and there, if you’re familiar with the broad rules of the game — and after three seasons of the Donald’s fast-waning show, how can you not be? — you’ll guess the winning team, and the losing contestant, within the first 35 minutes of the broadcast.

Stewart herself — the chin-up, ex-con, marketing-genius, comeback-kid Martha that we all know and love — is nowhere to be found on this show. “The Apprentice’s” Martha has been lobotomized; she smiles constantly, and appears ecstatic about everything. She’s so ebullient at a dinner with the winning team that one of the contestants, a fashion company owner named Howie, ventures, “I think I could possibly be falling in love with Martha Stewart … but, let’s keep that low.” And after she fires a contestant — her tag line is “You just don’t fit in” — she writes him a nice note explaining her reasons, the sort of move that would cause the Donald’s hair to run up a tree and hide in shame.

Martha’s nice-gal persona is, of course, probably just a matter of branding. For one thing, her “Apprentice” must differentiate itself from the Donald’s, and casting her show as the nicer of the two — more like a weeks-long picnic than an apprenticeship — may prove a profitable track: Even if Trump’s bombast is mostly ironic and knowing, surely there are some people who can’t stand the fellow, and for these people Stewart may seem more palatable. (Will there be folks who regularly tune in to both “Apprentices”? Yes, but — how to put this kindly? — they just don’t fit in.)

But Stewart’s got more riding on the show than simply ratings for NBC — the thing also serves as her reintroduction to America, a second coming out for a tastemaker who found herself (unjustly) banished from the world she’d made for herself. She is right, then, to play things a little conservatively, to stay away from the ego and immodesty we see on the other “Apprentice.” And she’ll probably move a lot of product by playing nice: Though she smiles too much, the Martha here is never creepy, and everything we see on the show — especially her wondrous office space — simply gleams. Contestants on the “Apprentice” franchise have always been an attractive lot, but on this version, as pretty as they are, the people seem like background distractions; the Martha Stewart-designed conference rooms and kitchens are the real stars.

“The path to success has not always been easy — I’ve faced incredible challenges, and I’ve gone through difficult times,” Stewart says at the start of this first episode, her one fleeting reference to her legal troubles. She adds: “But I learned from my experiences, and I never lost my optimism.” Even if her show never matches the Donald’s in drama or suspense, if its primary goal is to rehabilitate Martha — to show us she has more Good Things in store for America — it’s probably doing its job, and she has good reason to be smiling as much as she is.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Burger King Japan

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Burger King's black cheeseburger: Made with squid ink and bamboo charcoal, arguably a symbol of meat's destructive effect on the planet. Only available in Japan.

    Elite Daily/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    McDonald's Black Burger: Because the laws of competition say that once Burger King introduces a black cheeseburger, it's only a matter of time before McDonald's follows suit. You still don't have to eat it.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Domino's Specialty Chicken: It's like regular pizza, except instead of a crust, there's fried chicken. The company's marketing officer calls it "one of the most creative, innovative menu items we have ever had” -- brain power put to good use.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Arby's Meat Mountain: The viral off-menu product containing eight different types of meat that, on second read, was probably engineered by Arby's all along. Horrific, regardless.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    KFC'S ZINGER DOUBLE DOWN KING: A sandwich made by adding a burger patty to the infamous chicken-instead-of-buns creation can only be described using all caps. NO BUN ALL MEAT. Only available in South Korea.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Waffle Taco: It took two years for Taco Bell to develop this waffle folded in the shape of a taco, the stand-out star of its new breakfast menu.

    Michele Parente/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Krispy Kreme Triple Cheeseburger: Only attendees at the San Diego County Fair were given the opportunity to taste the official version of this donut-hamburger-heart attack combo. The rest of America has reasonable odds of not dropping dead tomorrow.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Quesarito: A burrito wrapped in a quesadilla inside an enigma. Quarantined to one store in Oklahoma City.

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Boston Pizza's Pizza Cake: The people's choice winner of a Canadian pizza chain's contest whose real aim, we'd imagine, is to prove that there's no such thing as "too far." Currently in development.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    7-Eleven's Doritos Loaded: "For something decadent and artificial by design," wrote one impassioned reviewer, "it only tasted of the latter."

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>