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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Celebrity Apprentice: “Puppet Up!”

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Now that things have calmed on the Lisa-Lou axis, thanks to The Hulk’s departure last episode, you might think that things would be calmer around the Team Forte clubhouse. But, please. Of course not. The fragile peace that Lisa and Dayana forged when they both wanted Lou out couldn’t hold when it was just the two of them without a common enemy. “Puppet Up!” finally drove Dayana’s incredible composure to the breaking point and Lisa into almost hysterics against her teammate, as Penn and Clay looked on with frozen grimaces.

But the first order of business after Forte’s latest loss was supplementing its team roster, which had dwindled down to three. Trump walks into FAO Schwarz like he’s about to condemn the place, and announces to both teams that Clay will be migrating over to Forte. Arsenio and Clay had begun to form a Lisa and Aubrey-like alliance, minus the bitching about Dayana, so Trump’s move was clearly to shake them out of their clique. It’s certainly not as serious a move as switching Aubrey to Unanimous, though. Clay’s nature is far more conciliatory, and he manages to work in well to the unhappy little family that Lisa, Dayana, and Penn created.

To celebrate FAO Schwarz’s 150th anniversary, our beloved team of quasi-celebrities have to throw a puppet show. If that sounds like the beginning of a joke, that’s because it sort of is. The puppet show is an improv comedy one, “Stuffed and Unstrung,” a Henson Alternative production that’s edgier than Sesame Street but not quite at Avenue Q. Both teams have to design two puppets and then put on an improv show with the help of the unbelievably patient Henson crew, who at one point look like they’d prefer to kick Teresa out of the room.

On team Forte, Lisa claims project manager. She’s a good candidate for the leader, but she’d also probably have gotten a real dressing down in the boardroom if she hadn’t stepped up.  Unanimous has a harder call to make, and Paul ends up as PM mostly because no one else rises to the challenge. You have to admire the guy’s gumption. Sure, it’s about a field he neither knows nor particularly cares about, and yeah, he threw out his back in the beginning of the challenge, but Paul is nothing if not a soldier.

Unfortunately, his strategy as leader worked much better in his initial run of project manager, where he could trust a large group to operate without ugh supervision and then bring in a huge check at the end. This time, Paul looks pretty lost. When it comes to the puppet design, Arsenio and Teresa pretty much do whatever they want, despite the warnings from the executives about simplicity being key. Arsenio styles one puppet as a punk rocker, which, according to Aubrey, is inspired by Arsenio’s own baldness and presumable mohawk envy. Teresa’s puppet is a hot, glittery mess. There were a number of bizarre accessories, including a large flower that Teresa attached to the side of the puppet’s head. Paul basically nods and says “awesome” to things.

After her last few boardrooms, Aubrey isn’t taking any chances by dissenting with Paul. Arsenio even praises her for her teamwork skills, but it’s clear that Aubrey is about to jump out of her skin with not criticizing everyone. For once, she would probably have at least helped turn the improv ship around. But her strategy was actually modeled on Dayana: Keep your head down, work hard, contribute when you can, and then look amused when the other players yell at each other later. Don’t worry, though. Her ego has hardly taken a blow. “I usually impress myself, so I’m not worried,” Aubrey flatly boasts about her turn as the show’s host.


To be fair, Aubrey handles her duties admirably. Arsenio and Teresa man the puppets, but Teresa has a tough time with the basic rules of improv. If you’ve ever wondered if Real Housewives of New Jersey is scripted, fear not. Teresa’s memorization skills don’t even extend to full nursery rhymes. Her puppet character awkwardly stutters along, and Teresa’s general good cheer gets her through the performance. It’s obvious that she wasn’t the best, but it wasn't a complete disaster for Unanimous.

On Forte, the classic Lisa and Dayana dynamic begins anew. Dayana jumps in with an idea that doesn’t quite fit the tone of the project, Lisa deflects her, and soon, Dayana is sulking about being underused while Lisa tries to allot her things to do that will keep her out of the works. Dayana makes the puppets for the group, a task she pulls off so well that members of the studio are about to offer her a job shaping felt noses. The whole thing culminates in a nasty backstage fight, where Lisa, clearly already at her breaking point with everyone, first lets loose on Dayana and then digs into both Penn and Clay for not backing her up. Penn has taken to just looking sidelong at the camera, and Clay tries to intervene without much success.


Luckily, everyone pulls it together in time for the performance, which turns out to be pretty great. Clay learned some puppetry at church long ago, but it serves him well. His southern lady voice kept pace with Lisa’s wisecracks laudably. Penn does the ringleader thing well, but doesn’t quite cut the skits at the right time. Still, it’s no surprise when Trump announces that Forte wins, much to the relief of Lisa, who had been in tears about whether she would bring someone back with her or take one for the team. I guess she’s pretty sick of taking Dayana back with her at this point, too.

Paul, Teresa, Arsenio, and Aubrey are left to face the boardroom wrath. Paul excuses Arsenio despite some executive complaints. Though Paul denies it, it’s hard to feel like he didn’t do it because he liked the guy, and Aubrey is a lesser known opponent, let’s say. Aubrey keeps out of the action, letting Teresa take Paul to task for his leadership. But Paul isn’t much for the cat fights. In the end he takes his firing with grace. I’d be surprised to see Teresa make the final four, though, no matter which of Trump’s wives she named her child after.


Stray observations:

  • Hearty thanks to Katherine Miller for filling in last week.
  • I think Penn is increasingly treating the whole show as a giant performance art project. He keeps dropping in gnomic utterances about how to relate to people.
  • Arsenio’s sage advice: “Everything’s better with boobs.”
  • It’s only a matter of time before Aubrey explodes if she keeps this up.
  • Also, Aubrey called Teresa’s puppet tacky, which is definitely a pot and kettle situation.