Sure, Donald Trump is running to be the man who brings about Idiocracy, but the National Broadcast Corporation couldn’t just let his show, Celebrity Apprentice, end gracefully, whatever “grace” looks like for a show where a sentient hair clippings sloshes the words “you’re fired” around like so much bourbon, more smug than he should be considering that he’s firing a stage magician who is actually quite secure in the knowledge that not catching a bullet in his teeth would, in fact, be better than another week of Celebrity Apprentice. To that end, NBC has hired a new host to take over until the show becomes President Trump’s preferred means of formal address: Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has, to his credit, been known to publicly fire folks for their harebrained schemes as far back as 1994.
Seeing Schwarzenegger, the former governor of California and box office champion of the universe, on a television show that wasn’t initially developed for him is something of a shock: Though Celebrity Apprentice draws millions of viewers every week, judging a celebrity talent contest, regardless of how good the paycheck is, is a stunning departure from his attempted silver screen comeback. With the recent failure of Terminator: Genysis, however, a move like this had to be coming: If the revitalization of his most popular character flopped, what else could Schwarzenegger do to rehabilitate his image? Smoking cigars and chuckling with minor celebs actually isn’t a bad idea, considering what it’s done for his grotesque predecessor’s image in the popular consciousness.
I’m actually a huge fan of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Action Star, and think that several of his post-politics films rank among his best work. Films like The Last Stand and Sabotage deal with the realities of aging and regret with much more maturity than, say, The Expendables, and Maggie, though something of a bore, sees the Austrian Oak bust out some legit acting chops in service of a father-saves-daughter plot that can’t be solved by single-handedly toppling an entire autocratic dictatorship. All of these, it should be noted, failed without much notice. When I mention Sabotage as a movie that slipped through the cracks, people look at me with their head cocked, like a dog hearing something strange and distant. Sabotage? they ask, looking it up. It’s got, like, 18% on Rotten Tomatoes. To this I say Yeah, but, only to quickly realize the futility of liking Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2015: Politics. scandal, Batman and Robin—not only is he box office poison, but it’s hard to figure any of his recent outings as future cult favorites. So here he is on a show where his big, awkward charm will play huge with your grandparents. They’ll speak of his extramarital affairs and allegations of sexual abuse in disapproving tones before adding a Yeah, but of their own about how cool he seems in the boardroom, how affable, how nice. My, how people can change.
As a fan who was rooting for a return to form, the Celebrity Apprentice announcement was a letdown. With the exception of the heavily hyped Terminator reboot, most new Schwarzenegger films are now released in the first quarter of the year, doomed to their failure and obscurity. Justifiably, it seemed as if studios had no faith to draw money at the theater, and hosting Celebrity Apprentice suggests that he knows the same, that his name is worth something, but only if it’s attached to a sure thing. How did this happen? Scandal, yes, but there’s something…off…about Schwarzenegger’s comeback pictures, something preventing them from becoming the kind of artistic successes (yes, artistic) that attract true cult followings: A decided lack of bad-ass women to compliment Schwarzenegger’s alien grace.
It’s weird, probably, to think about Arnold Schwarzenegger films in terms of the women who fought with him or against him, but as a child I was fascinated with the Schwarzeneggerian equivalent of the Bond girl. Jamie Lee Curtis, Sharon Stone, Grace Jones, Brigitte Nielsen, Linda Hamilton—they cycled through Arnold’s movies as warriors and revolutionaries, heroes and villains. Hamilton’s Sarah Connor is both one of the great Final Girls in film and an affecting portrait of a woman dealing with unimaginable trauma. She’s an icon whose image matters as much to the Terminator franchise as the killer cyborg she’s running from. The first time I saw her in T2: Judgement Day, I thought That’s it—that’s the woman I want to be. And I still want to be Linda Hamilton. But, thinking about his late period films, I’m stuck. There are no icons here—just faces in the crowd.
Even Terminator: Genysis, with Sarah Connor recast as Game of Throne’s Emilia Clarke, seemed to fundamentally misunderstand the crucial role of women in Schwarzenegger’s best work. Updated for 2015, Connor mostly stands around and listens to her robot guardian and her maybe-lover from a potential future bicker about the fate of her womb while trying to stop a killer app from uploading, U2-style, onto every smartphone on Earth. Where the early Terminator films are about Connor and the dangers of being a woman and mother, Genysis included the character as a point of obligation—not to the franchise, per se, but to the idea of casting Just One Woman in an action film.
2015, thanks largely to Mad Max: Fury Road and its scores of women warriors, is the end of it being acceptable for women to exist in these mainstream universes as useless objects blocking our view of the beefcake parade, but the men responsible for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s comeback scripts left them entirely out. The end result was the failure of Terminator: Genysis, which might, mercifully, be the end of the franchise. What’s obvious now is that Schwarzenegger needs a break, and, not to disparage the network, that’s what a stint on NBC represents. Beyond sequels for Conan (yay!) and Twins (really?), Celebrity Apprentice is the only work on Schwarzenegger’s docket for some time. When he comes back, I hope the people working on new vehicles for him reassess what, to me, is an essential part of his success. If, at the end of his television obligation, they’re unable to come up with something better than a creaky excuse for Schwarzenegger to mention his advanced age, then it’s time for him to pass the torch he used to call the Predator out with to Imperator Furiosa and the future.