And then there were four. The cast of Celebrity Apprentice has shrunk from sixteen to this quartet: John Rich, Marlee Matlin, Lil Jon, and Meat Loaf. Lil Jon makes a point of screaming about how this is the Final Four, but I prefer to think of them as the Fantastic Four. John Rich is Mister Fantastic, stretching his head into that cowboy hat. Meat Loaf is The Thing, lumbering through life like a horse with an empty bag of oats stuck over his head. Marlee Matlin is the Human Torch, burning up the Competish with her incendiary fund-raising skills. And Lil Jon is The Invisible Dude, getting things done in the shadows as he remains unseen behind his enormous glasses. And who does this make Donald Trump? Professor Eccch?
John Rich and Lil Jon are thrilled to learn that Meat Loaf survived the attack after he stumbles back from the boardroom. But Marlee is a little shaken by the events — she's actually crying. Meat Loaf stammers out an apology to her, explaining that he had to defend himself in the boardroom. As if Marlee wasn't sure how the show worked.
I'm sure she was relieved when Trump imperiously walked into the room. And everybody stands up out of deference, with John Rich even likening the moment to "when a five-star general walks into the room." Which I'm sure Trump loves hearing: If (when?) he's president eighteen months from now, it would not surprise me if he adopted some sort of paramilitary look. He could always get La Toya Jackson to help him sew epaulets on his jackets.
Trump explains that the remaining quartet is going to be interviewed by three people who are very special to him — Bret Michaels, Joan Rivers, and Piers Morgan. I thought for a second that Trump got inside my head Inception-style and managed to find my personal list of "People I Would Not Want to Be Handcuffed to While Running Through the Bayou Like in That Richard Gere Movie." (Others on the list include John Kruk, the little kid from the Highlander commercials, Ernie Anastos, Ronald McDonald, G.E. Smith, Reginald VelJohnson, that kid who barks "WHUT" at Gary Cole in that State Farm commercial, Merle Allin, and the jerk at the Apple Store who wouldn't migrate the stuff from my Mac Pro — which died a few months after the three-year AppleCare warranty expired — to the new iMac I bought. Come on, Apple: Customer loyalty is a two-way street.)
But I realize that Michaels, Rivers, and Morgan are all past Celebrity Apprentice winners, and Trump says — how he got this out without laughing I have no idea — that he takes what they say "very, very seriously." So he is going to have them interview each contestant to see if they have what it takes to be the next Celebrity Apprentice.
Trump sits down with these former faux greats — who are all jammed onto a couch that is waaaay too small for three people — and asks them what they thought of the contestants. And after they blather on for a few minutes, we cut to the conference room where they're talking to John Rich. So wait — the interviews happened already and they're playing with the timeline?! This is like The Social Network! Except not good!
John Rich holds his own in the conference room. Piers Morgan asks him who he would chuck under a bus. And without blinking he says Meat Loaf, the guy whom he was just partying with two minutes ago. And on a related note, I would hate to be a passenger on any bus that had Meat Loaf chucked under it. I might bet against the bus in that standoff.
Piers Morgan continues his hard-line questioning of Rich, saying that he's not impressed by the singer's repeated discussions of how his songwriting skills impacted the contests. Then he refers to his cowboy hat as "annoying," and I find myself furious at this guy for crapping on the horrible people that I have spent the last three months crapping on. I'm suddenly transformed into the classic Philadelphia sports fan, taking offense at others heckling my team, because they're my team and I'm the only one who can throw shit at them.
Besides, Piers Morgan? Joan Rivers and Bret Michaels have accomplished things in their careers. Piers is one of those guys whom nobody actually likes. He's like Billy Bob Thornton or the Foo Fighters; nobody is actually a fan of what they do, but they've all carved out some unclaimed corner of the marketplace: In Morgan's case, it's "Simon Cowell Without Standards."
Bret asks John Rich whether he has it in him to tell Lil Jon that he's not gonna win this thing, and Rich slides into full-on shark mode, saying that the other players "will experience John Rich in a way they have not experienced him yet." What way? With talent? (See, it's okay when I make fun of them!)
Then it's Lil Jon's turn to be interviewed. And he slips up right away, saying that he thinks John Rich and Marlee Matlin will be the final two. Piers calls Lil Jon "a loser" because of this mentality. Actually, he's a guy who doesn't have to "win" this fake show because he still kinda has a career going on. But it's pretty clear that this was a big faux pas for Lil Jon and is exactly the kind of thing that Trump latches onto.
Lil Jon wants it to be understood that he did Celebrity Apprentice to show that "all rappers are not blunt-smoking, crack-selling ignorant people." Joan Rivers responds by saying, "Could you give us names?" which is one of those weird non-jokes that Don Rickles gets away with all the time just because he's a legend. So it's kinda heartening to see that Joan Rivers is at the point in her life where she gets solid laughs with that dud.
Trump is "very proud" of his three champions, taking credit for their "success," hilariously wondering where his 25 percent commission is. Wait, what success? Joan is still doing what she always did. Piers Morgan is in a freefall with his horrifyingly bad talk show — which is the New Coke of television, actually making people nostalgic for when Larry King was behind the desk. And Bret Michaels is — outside of distributing LINE REDACTED to county fairs across the Midwest — not doing much of anything.
It's Meat Loaf's turn to get grilled. Piers asks him if it's wise to show such a weepy/semi-psychotic side in a business competition. Business competition? This show is one step away from dumping goo from the ceiling on contestants if they lose a challenge. This is not real life and the constant insistence that it is has started to catch up to me. I cannot take the solemn seriousness of this show anymore. This is not life and death and it's probably a good thing for all of us that there's only one more episode to go after tonight's snoozer.
And on a related note, this whole season kinda sucked. It was a year where you just waited for things to start, only to realize that they were well under way and that the sour flavor you're tasting is actually the main course.
Meat Loaf insists to the group that he's a fighter and he puts himself out there every time. But Piers asks him if he's got anger-management issues. This is kind of insulting, because saying that Meat Loaf has anger-management issues diminishes his ability to break into tears at the drop of a hat. Although it's probably not John Rich's hat dropping, unless his head is still attached to it.
It's Marlee's turn to be interviewed. Being the pervert he is, Bret has to mention that "she's hot and not hard to look at at all." Do I really need to hear this creep — who looks like a troll doll that accidentally got put in the dryer — gauging the attractiveness of another human? It's just gross.
Marlee says that since she's deaf, people instantly underestimate her and put her in a box. She says that "people who know me know I can do anything, people who don't are amazed." And she's right #8212; it's pretty hard not to be amazed by Matlin, both on this show and in the real world. She's a true fighter and I have been continually impressed by how she conducts herself and the spirit with which she lives her life. I hope she wins this whole thing!
But Piers being Piers, he says that he thinks being deaf on the show would be an advantage, because when he played it, he wished he didn't have to hear Omarosa. Funny stuff! Why doesn't this ape just cut to the chase and join the WWE as a heel manager? He could call himself the Chap and patrol the ring wearing a bowler hat and holding an umbrella. Here's to Larry King pulling a Leno on Morgan and taking back his old show!
After the interviews, Trump gathers his foursome into the boardroom. And his look of weird pale eyes surrounded by bright orange skin is only getting weirder — it's like he's looking out of a jack-o-lantern. He asks the contestants whom they would pick as the final two. John Rich says himself and Marlee. Lil Jon says himself and John Rich. Marlee says herself and John Rich. And Meat Loaf says himself and John Rich. Have these people heard his music? Or maybe they have and they want to keep him on this show and away from his guitar for as long as possible?
And like I thought, Trump hammers Lil Jon for saying he would predict himself over others for the final two. And that gets him fired. Just like that, over one dumb statement in a meeting. But it's good! Go, Lil Jon! Go! Run back to your Actual Career! Trump gives Lil Jon some advice as he leaves, telling him to "go out there and knock 'em dead," tacking on a "great going, man" for good measure. Maybe he really does have a great relationship with "the blacks" after all!
Lil Jon did well on the show — he got some good exposure for the United Methodist Children's Home of North Georgia Conference. I give him a ton of credit for managing to succeed on his own terms on this show while never taking off his sunglasses once. (I looked at pictures of Lil Jon without his sunglasses on and it was pretty unremarkable — it's a guy not wearing sunglasses! Although I don't know what I was expecting.) And as he steps into the elevator, he gives a final knowing nod to the secretary who sits behind the desk in every single episode of this show scribbling who knows what on a pad while waiting for Trump to bellow "let them back in."
John Rich praises Lil Jon for his performance on the show, saying that he broke down a stereotype. Yes: It was a stereotype perpetrated by a lot of people in John Rich's fan base, but that's splitting hairs. Then comes the worst loop line I have ever heard in the digital age as Trump says, "One more of you is about to be fired." I haven't heard a loop that bad since a generic hoodlum yelled "It's not working! Kill the motherfucker!" to his fellow gang members in Death Wish 3.
Then Trump turns the spotlight onto Meat Loaf. Trump hammers him for being overly emotional and says that it's a beautiful thing — he even wishes that Meat Loaf would teach him how to cry, because it might be good for his image. I don't think that's such a good idea, because, for starters, the orange paint covering Trump's face will only stain his bespoke suits. (Although, on the plus side, his blue suits will be transformed into an orange and blue concoction that he can proudly wear to any Knicks game.) Also, if Trump starts crying, he might never stop crying for the horrible life he has led and all those that he has screwed over for an extra dollar.
But after humoring him for a couple of moments, Trump has to do what he has to and he fires Meat Loaf. Which launches Meat Loaf into a rambling thank-you speech that I would put against Gary Busey's now-legendary "kite" speech from a few episodes back. Meat says, "That's perfectly okay but listen — let me — I'm gonna get emotional again [laughs]. Let me thank you for being on this show and finding out stuff that I didn't know about me and finding out stuff that I didn't know I could do. And can I shake your hand? I admire you more than you could imagine."
It's just too much — this guy is a mess and probably needs some time off to get his head straight. I'm on his side in a lot of ways — he does truly care about his charity, the Painted Turtle. But he also acts like a total kook way too much for it to be acceptable. He complained about Gary Busey because he was Gary Busey. And as he leaves, he slaps the elevator guy five and gives the doodling receptionist the devil's horns as the doors close.
So it's down to Marlee Matlin and John Rich. The final two. And the most deserving — they both kept their heads screwed on tightly throughout the entirety of the season. John Rich says he's going to give it everything he's got. And so is Marlee. And man are they padding this thing out.
We pick it up for the start of the final challenge in the lobby of one of Trump's buildings. Trump addresses Rich and Matlin, and it's clear that he's got a cold. It's hard to describe his voice in this state, but if you set your GPS to speak in the "New York Dolt" setting then let it warp in the sun, you might get a fair idea.
The head of 7-Up is on hand. And I'm not gonna make fun of the guy's appearance but he does look like John Polito. That's not an insult, is it? Especially since John Polito is better-looking than this guy? Whatever — this guy sells soda for a living and the best thing I did for myself in the last decade was quit soda cold turkey. There was a seven-day period when I wanted to murder everybody around me, but after that I felt great. It was like the difference between the studio version of "My War" and the version I just heard on the Black Flag '82 demos — being stuck in molasses versus having wings strapped to your shoulder blades.
The task is for each player to coordinate a promotion for the launching of 7-Up Retro, which has real sugar in it! (Try water, people! Seriously! Or even juice!). This involves putting together a new can design, a store display, a commercial, and a big "star-studded" (I'll be the judge of that!) event. And since the theme is "retro," one team will work with the seventies and the Harlem Globetrotters, and the other will work with the eighties and Def Leppard. What's wrong, was Meat Loaf busy? Har-har, that was a joke because we're done with him forever and I hope to never hear him cry/yell again. Marlee selects the seventies and Rich gets the eighties.
But how can these one-person teams do all that work themselves!? They can't — but they can with a little help from their fake friends! And like magic, in come past contestants from the show! It's like when Han Solo zoomed to the rescue in Star Wars, except these people are all bummers and it only means I have to keep remembering to put the space between "La" and "Toya".
Rich and Matlin divide them up playground-style to build out their teams. It breaks down to John Rich having Lil Jon, Mark McGrath, and Star Jones on his team, with Matlin selecting Meat Loaf, Richard Hatch, and La Toya Jackson. And yes, I am suddenly back in the Meat Loaf business.
And after Marlee and John are given 50 grand each for their charities, they head back to plot their campaigns. And Meat Loaf starts in with the same old shit, overplanning the campaign as if he were actually good at it; it was a week ago he tanked the OnStar commercial, right? He's pushing to get in a fairy suit with wings, using the can as the magic wand. La Toya Jackson can't believe how all over the place Meat Loaf is, and she's 100 percent right. I kinda think Marlee miscalculated by bringing Meat onboard. Their team eventually settles on the slogan "7-Up Retro — Feel the Love".
They start shooting pictures for their store display and settle on having Richard Hatch hold up a 7-Up can in a disco pose. And I'm sure the 7-Up execs love a convicted felon showcasing their product, although to be fair they are shooting it in silhouette, which actually gives Hatch the chance to become the Jerry West of Soda.
John Rich is leading his group, which at this point seems more efficient than Matlin's. They come up with "7-Up Retro — Keeping It Real." Which is pretty good. Ivanka checks in on the team and John Rich keeps raving about how working with Def Leppard plays to his strengths, by which I'm guessing he means that he understands them because they suck as badly as he does?
Meat Loaf is legitimately unhappy to discover that Marlee has decided to ditch his idea of having the soda case be shaped like a boombox, with no concern that the boombox was more of an eighties thing than a seventies thing. And he really starts getting dramatic about it.
What a dickhead — he truly can't control his temper and comes undone over the slightest event. And I know you're tired of me talking about it. I'm tired of hearing him talk about it on my TV. Imagine what it's like to have him doing it to you in person. I wouldn't wish it upon my worst enemy — except maybe that kid at the Apple store. It's a migration! All you do is transfer files to my new computer from my old computer that doesn't work anymore because you guys don't make things that last.
But they keep moving forward. Their concept is to show the things from the seventies that 7-Up has outlasted. They decide to invite original seventies 7-Up pitchman Geoffrey Holder — the guy with the booming laugh who was in Live and Let Die — to reprise his role in their spot as a reference to the history of 7-Up. He says he's interested in doing it. And it's a fun idea if they do it right, but who knows what he looks like these days? If this dude shows up looking like Joan Rivers in a white hat, they're doomed.
John Rich's team is cranking — they've come up with an idea very similar to the other team. They want to have their commercial depict eighties auditions, with various eighties-rock look-alikes auditioning against a guy whom we eventually realize is Dee Snider from Twisted Sister! John Rich describes him as "far and away the most visually ridiculous icon you can come up with," while wearing a cowboy hat that I will probably spend the rest of my life pondering for a multitude of reasons: Does he ever take it off? How many of them does he own? Does it hurt his head to have it on all day long?
Dee is into doing it, but there's a big problem — he's sporting an enormous Fu Manchu mustache because he's in the cast of the musical Rock of Ages and he's contractually obligated to keep the mustache! What a bummer! But Dee agrees to check with the producers and eventually calls back saying that yes, he can shave the mustache, which only speaks to how little the producers of the musical really care about his facial hair.
The commercial shoots are under way. Meat Loaf has written his team's spot and it is classic Meat Loaf, with some of the most bizarrely personal touches; this guy should revive the Dogme 95, although after fifteen minutes he'd have Lars von Trier begging to check out the latest Pirates of the Carribean movie. Richard Hatch plays a disco guy and La Toya Jackson plays a superhero — how is that specifically from the seventies? — and Meat Loaf himself dresses up like he used to circa Bat Out of Hell, with the prom suit and the long hair. The wigs are cheap and the dialogue is terrifyingly bad — Hatch says, "I'm in the crib, can you dig it to the max?" — which sounds like an updating of "acid is groovy, kill the pigs." And I'm not sure if Marlee made the right decision by letting this guy do his thing to this degree.
Suddenly the commercial that John Rich has been working on sounds dumb. A Madonna look-alike and an Axl Rose look-alike are humiliated, but Dee Snider is the "real" one, even though his music is instantly more disposable than most anybody from the eighties. Even that last Blancmange album holds up better these days!
But they shoot the spot with Dee and he eventually gets into full Twisted Sister makeup and you know that Trump is gonna ask him to be on the next season of Celebrity Apprentice. And in his defense, he Does the Thing and it's just fine.
During all this, John Rich is trying to hold it all together but hits a wall when the tour manager of Def Leppard refuses to have the drummer play a kick drum during the charity show. John Rich decides to challenge the guy, which Mark McGrath thinks might be foolhardy considering how many records Def Leppard sold back when there was a functioning music industry.
There's no shortage of drama on Marlee's team. Meat Loaf throws another one of his patented shit fits because Geoffrey Holder's lawyer refuses to allow his client to sign the release. And with no Plan B they are not sure what to do. Meat Loaf threatens to throw the fucking phone across the room.
The tension is so thin I can't take it!
Will Geoffrey Holder show up? Will Def Leppard allow the use of a kick drum onstage? And who will be named the next Celebrity Apprentice?
To MEGAN202 from the Vulture Comments section:
Complaining about Obama as a community organizer (and putting it in quotes like it's code for something else), moaning about Jeremiah Wright and Michaele (not Michaela — show some respect!) Salahi? Haven't you gotten any talking points since early 2009? And don't you have an Operation Rescue Fun Run to train for?
I would say that I'm sorry that you don't like the recaps. But I'm not. Not at all. I'm really glad you don't, because you seem like a truly horrible person. I truly pity you.
And thank you for mentioning the vain attempts to promote my music videos — I almost forgot to link to the Ted Leo and the Pharmacists video I directed! Enjoy!
To MOVIEWATCHER from the Vulture Comments section:
I didn't miss the whole "sweetie" thing — I simply ran out of room! And please explain how Meat Loaf might have OCD! I'm interested in that theory!
To FUNBUD23 from the Vulture Comments section:
Have you met Megan202? You two would get along like gangbusters — you can talk about Ironsides and she can show you the pair of Mike Huckabee's pants she bought off eBay.
Thanks to everybody. And next week I AM FREE.