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Picks and Pans Main: TV

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Who’s the Boss?

Just how much business genius is actually marshalled behind Donald Trump’s squint has been a subject of debate for years. But as The Apprentice‘s, central player—harrumphing in the boardroom, showing off the gold-plated eye candy of his lifestyle with feigned casual pride—he’s a showman in the grand style. Anyone with the nerve to imitate him risks looking like Mini-Me with a combover. Even with Apprentice’s ratings down a bit this season, the show has already sent one copycat slinking off: ABC’s Benefactor, starring Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, was such a ratings disappointment its run was cut from eight episodes to six. Now FOX has launched two more shows that play off/rip off The Apprentice, neither of which, so far, has generated much ratings buzz.

In My Big Fat Obnoxious Boss, from the producers of My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance, an actor named William August passes himself off as an entrepreneur who has made, as he puts it, “craploads” of money and is looking to hire a, um, protégé or squire or something. (He has trouble pinpointing the word.) The aspirants humiliate themselves in ridiculous “business” competitions (selling reusable toilet paper), while August, having a high old time playing Boss from Hell, insults them with offhanded irrationalities-one guy he faults for being short. But no comedian can trump Trump, who’s funny largely because a viewer can never be sure whether he knows he’s funny. Trump jingles with money, but every so often you can hear a fainter jingle of laughter.

Virgin CEO Sir Richard Branson has, shrewdly, gone off in a gentler direction for his Apprentice homage The Rebel Billionaire. He puts the contestants through harrowing daredevil challenges like walking a plank between two hot-air balloons, but in the premiere he was always cheerfully supportive, nudging the contestants along on a rigorous journey toward self-discovery (and pay dirt: the job of running his enterprises). It’s like a reality show run by Siddhartha. You’re hired, you’re fired. It’s all one. Trump would probably fire Branson and hire August.