It must have been Joan Rivers' ghost that turned up during Monday night's Celebrity Apprentice, because this posthumous appearance saw Rivers appear as she rarely appeared on television—subdued, restrained, and gently smiling. No caustic jokes. No bitching. No gasp-out-loud smack-talk. It was truly spooky.
Even spookier: You could watch Rivers at 8 p.m. on NBC, then at 9 p.m. turn over to Fashion Police on E! for the second episode of the bitching-heavy show now under the aegis of Kathy Griffin.
A miraculous reincarnation had not occurred on NBC. This Celebrity Apprentice episode was recorded before Rivers' death in July, and a whoop of delight echoed through the room when she appeared at Donald Trump's side to help judge a competition to design a marketing campaign for his daughter Ivanka's shoe range from Nordstrom.
This was nakedly, breathtakingly opportunistic on the family Trump's part—to use NBC, and the show he hosts to maximize the profits of his daughter's fashion line. Does NBC have guidelines around this kind of thing? Did no one else think it was as laughable as it was objectionable? It's ingenious in a grotesque way. Why bother paying for advertising when the TV show you host is prepared to accommodate your promotional demands within the thinly veiled confines of a "competition." At least the winning team captains win money for charities of their choice, which Trump occasionally matches.
And true, the multimillionaire, and the strange marmalade-colored furze that looks like it may take off from the top of his head at any moment, gave Rivers her due. It was clear he held much genuine affection for her, so his judgment can't be all bad. "With me today is the legendary Joan Rivers," he intoned, "and her advice means a lot."
Trump then dismissed his daughter Ivanka's career "as whatever the hell she does."
Ivanka told the teams they'd be designing a marketing event for her Nordstrom shoe collection, so not only free promotion for her shoes, but a competition to promote her promotion of her shoes. Let the definition of shamelessness be amended to incorporate this episode of Celebrity Apprentice.
The nice lady from Nordstrom then told us about their very important relationship with Ivanka, and to tell us they had partnered with her to target modern people or something, and THE MARKETING CAMPAIGNS should reflect this.
I'm surprised they didn't repeat it 10 more times, or that Rivers wasn't accorded one eye roll at the total absurdity of it.
The comedian visited the two teams, as they toiled to create free advertising for Her Highness Trump, in two tiny, ugly motor homes, which they desperately tried to glam up.
Still, we got to see many shoes.
Lots of shoes.
Lots of Ivanka's shoes for Nordstrom. Got it? Good.
Rivers, decked out in leopard print, toured the two teams' efforts, made a joke about bunions, and liked the images of shoes on one of the team's screens. And that was it. She may have smiled about being offered coffee, but that was it.
Back in the boardroom, Trump hailed Rivers. "It's amazing to have Joan Rivers with us. She was an amazing champion, and she is an amazing champion."
Rivers, in hot pink, smiled. Her only attempt at a zinger came when noting one of the teams had provided that free coffee for prospective Ivanka-for-Nordstrom shoe shoppers.
Rivers said that as a New Yorker you would stop for coffee for yourself and six buddies, and screw the shoes. She complimented Geraldo Rivera and Vivica A. Fox for their force, energy, and decisiveness. "I saw great leadership," she said, without any edge.
Trump looked at the latest round of Apprentices and said how fantastic Rivers was; and they all agreed. "That's my beautiful champ," said Trump.
The gymnast Shawn Johnson was rightly ejected from the competition; she seemed sweet, but lacking focus, drive, and any desire to be there. In other words, a sane individual. "It's very hard, she's a champion, she learnt," said Rivers softly.
There was, to Trump and NBC's credit, no fulsome panegyric to Rivers, no added segments, no mawkishly orchestrated tableaux. But right at the end, when Lorenzo Lamas was fired after the second task of the evening, his loser's traditional taxi ride (where they vow to turn up on Today the next morning to tell us more—WITH SPECIAL MENTION OF IVANKA'S SHOES) took him past the Fashion Institute of Technology on 7th Avenue.
For the flamboyant fashion queen Rivers was, and the brilliant chief of Fashion Police she was, that—however unintentional—was a lovely, utterly suitable closing image; as was the caption that flashed up next, illustrated by a photograph of Rivers at her most vivacious: "In Memory of Our Friend Joan Rivers 1933—2014."
It was an understated, classy farewell made starker by occurring within the most bombastic of TV shows.