Last Night’s Telly: Property Ladder

Angus Reid 24/04/2008

It recent weeks the powers that be have pulled off a scheduling dream to make Wednesday a bit of a 'staying in with the TV' night; serving up a double whammy of smug with the perennially pregnant Sarah Beeny on Property Ladder, and the never ending parade of tossers in suits that is The Apprentice. Both of these shows are expertly made to emotionally manipulate the viewer into rooting for one side while wishing failure upon the other, and despite the fact that it's quite plain to most sentient viewers that they're being toyed with, it's still one hell of a ride.

So, let's get started with 'the Been' then. Last night we were offered the contrast of an emotionally fragile woman who's interest in property development extended no further than doing up part of her (admittedly massive) flat as a way of remembering her dead husband. She resolutely ignores every single thing that she's told will make her a profit, and ends up spending a fortune on what is essentially a large scale decorating job. She makes almost nothing, but the sight on her otherwise drawn face lighting up as she reminisces “eating sandwiches out on the steps” has a tragic undercurrent that cannot fail to tug on the heart strings. Our second house mangling would-be developer appears to have travelled back in time from the later Apprentice, and found himself on Property Ladder instead. Make no mistake, this man drives a flash car, wears suits, and is all about the money. Before you've even seen what he's bought you want him to fail miserably. I feel so cheap and used, so easily spoon-fed what to feel and when to feel it, but the man is an idiot who isn't even prepared to try. As he's faced with around a 30,000 loss at the end of the project, I'll admit that my heart leaps a little with joy. Schadenfreude has never felt so good.

Onwards then to the televisual treat that is the Apprentice, where the star of the show is always going to be the never-pregnant Sir Alan. This time, we are again faced with a pretty clear personality contest from the start. There is Lucinda, the vaguely hippyish, eccentric, softly spoken, doe-eyed 'anti-suit' on one side, and Claire, the snide mouth on chubby little legs on the other. During the episode we see Lucinda plan everything out, make some interesting flavours of ice cream (for the challenge, not in general), secure some good deals and generally get along well with everyone. We also see Claire abandon her staff to get pissed at a cider tasting session, continually grate with people, make no attempt to organise any meetings and, with seconds to go, secure a suspiciously massive deal that wins her the task. If there's a moral to this, it appears to be that slacking your way through life is the way to succeed in business, which by rights means that I should be running Microsoft by this time next year.

This is enough to get me wondering. Through the entire episode we see Claire's team fail to do even the simplest thing well, and it's clear who's going to win. But Lucinda is less of a TV personality, and for her to win leaves no dramatic tension in the showdown. The last minute deal keeps you hooked, and makes you want to know who wins. What makes this even more suspicious is that Claire's last minute deal appears to be made with a company that has no reason to buy her product. “We make everything in-house, we do it all ourselves. But yeah, OK, put us down for 800 worth of ice-cream” says the CEO of Hoxton-Idiocy Inc. I've crossed the threshold of being played for a gormless telly watching fool now, and belief can be suspended no longer.

For what it's worth though, the eventual loser of the week, Lindi Mngaza, is a woman of such staggering self-importance that she deserves the chop. Apparently, she can't believe that Sir Alan can't see how “special” she is. I think he's more than aware…