What on earth must the rest of Britain think the capital is like based on the antics of Lord Sugar and co?
It's that time of year again. As the pomp of Prokofiev's 'Dance of the Knights' booms out in living rooms across the land, it can only mean one thing: 'The Apprentice' is back. With it come the questions: will this series spawn another troll of Katie Hopkinsesque proportions? Can anyone remember it before it was just 'The X Factor' with flipcharts? And why do the contestants still insist on waving their smartphones around in mid-air?
But perhaps there's another question in the minds of viewers outside the M25: can London really be as oppressive a place as Apprenticeville would have them believe? Based on the show, our city appears wholly dystopian. In Apprenticeville, the Thames has a starring role, with crimson sunsets lending it an alien coldness that's less Pooh Sticks, more River Styx. Each episode offers a strange Frankenstein version of London, moving from Docklands to Tower Bridge to Bloomsbury in mere seconds, laughing in the face of actual topography.
With Apprenticeville firmly ingrained in their minds, non-Londoners would expect to find the capital's skyline replete with Shards and Gherkins all the way out to Zone 9. Do they know that most of us can go for months - years even - without venturing into the City, let alone the mindbogglingly disconnected corner that is Canary Wharf? (Forget Crossrail: it deserves a stop on Virgin Galactic).
As well as its apocalyptic vibe, there's something weirdly dated about Apprenticeville. Given that there were more black cabs in the opening episode than I've seen in the centre of London in the last month, Uber is presumably outlawed there. It's also the last place on earth where owning a BlackBerry is still de rigueur. We all know that Lord Sugar made his squillions in the '80s, but at times the show is so anachronistic that you half-expect a Victorian shoeshine boy to appear in the boardroom and start buffing Lord S's slip-ons.
And what of the merry band of incompetents themselves? Was this great city really built on the dreams of such besuited dullards? 'I'm disgustingly ambitious,' declared construction exec Elle in the opening episode, moments before plumbing mogul Joseph outdid her on the disgustingness front by comparing himself to Hugh Hefner. Each year, these idiots spout the same nonsense and give their teams rejected superhero names, from Alpha and Synergy to Summit and Phoenix. And each year they inch closer to parody, bluffing and bitching their way through tasks you probably know by heart: the one where they flog inedible food; the one where they do 'Mad Men' impressions; the one where their 'banking jobs' are revealed to have been little more than temp roles at NatWest.
Let's hope that the rest of Britain can see Apprenticeville for what it is: a factitious domain of City boy arrogance and questionable decision-making, all driven by the delusions of an inept few. Which sounds nothing like the real London, now, does it?
Want more ranting and raving? Read Jonny Ensall's column on being a douchebag cyclist in London.
Illustration: Nate Kitch.