Haven’t you always wondered about those people who, through no fault of their own (or even their parents), wound up having the same exact name as a celebrity? All those Pamela Andersons and Denise Richardses and Jessica Simpsons? A!ll those Charles Barkleys?
Well, shoot. “Same Name,” CBS’s summertime brain burp of a reality show premiering Sunday night, certainly has given it some . . . well, “thought” is not quite the word . . . and despite my firmest hope otherwise, I detect a smash hit in a vein similar to “Undercover Boss.” First up, a guy named David Hasselhoff meets David Hasselhoff!
The famous Hasselhoff you know because, like bedbugs, he’s difficult to banish: “Knight Rider,” “Baywatch,” hairy chest, red swim trunks, Berlin Wall, German pop charts, cheeseburgers drunkenly devoured off a carpeted floor — that’s the Hoff.
The other Hasselhoff is a 27-year-old married father in Lake Jackson, Tex. (an hour or so west of Galveston), who works as a high-voltage equipment technician with his dad, who is also named David Hasselhoff (Sr.). Watch as the younger Hoff tries to call a restaurant and make a reservation in his own name: The hostess on the other end of the line scoffs, laughs and hangs up on him. It’s been like that his whole life.
Into the Hasselhoff family’s pleasant world (and blue-collar, which is meant to read as more wholesome) drops the celebrity Hasselhoff, via private jet, wearing a fancy jacket and gaudy-pocket jeans and greeting them with a stack of autographed photos of himself. “Who talked me into this?” the Hoff asks the camera when he considers what he’s bargained for. (As if the Hoff — whose bizarre permanence as a semi-star is inextricably linked to his workaholic determination to say yes to any paying gig — doesn’t know the answer: You, Hoff. You talked yourself into this.)
The experiment gets a little interesting for about 12 minutes or so: The Hoff stays behind in Lake Jackson, noshing on high-carb fare at a family dinner where TV trays are assembled into a den circle while the non-famous Hasselhoff kisses his family adios. The non-famous Hasselhoff then gets on that jet back to L.A., where he is greeted by the Hoff’s bodyguard and taken to live in splendor for a few days at the Hoff’s compound. (You may recognize the pad — and the squealing post-teen daughter who greets the bewildered stranger — as the same setting for Hasselhoff’s wretched reality show this year, which was put out of its misery a mere two episodes in.)
On the “Wife Swap” principle (or again, “Undercover Boss”), each man discovers the old cliche that the grass is always greener and whatever. In the Hoff’s case, it’s literally grass: After an early-to-rise day spent working on high-voltage equipment, he spends another day mowing pastures with Mama Hasselhoff’s lawncare business. Plus, he has to get up during the night and help feed the baby. His eyes are thus opened: Americans work harder than ever to make ends meet and there is no convincing them that a TV/pop star could be working just as hard.
When the celebrity Hoff thinks he’s going to get a rest, the Hasselhoffs whisk him off to a local honky-tonk, where he is barraged by phone cameras and a pushy mob of gawkers. Yet he cannot possibly risk appearing tired, surly or in any way displeased. It’s no small task to make us feel sorry for The Hoff, but here it is.
Meantime, the workin’-man Hasselhoff, who has never been west of El Paso, has his eyes similarly opened by a curiously hollow lifestyle upgrade. He also has his taste buds challenged by a plate of the Hoff’s favorite designer sushi.
It turns out the Hoff’s world is a monotonous swirl of meetings, contracts, workout regimens and glad-handing events that demand a sunny disposition even if he doesn’t feel like it. It also means every pre-tax dollar earned is heavily divided by commissions to agents, managers and publicists, and then divided some more by salaries for housekeeping staff and other employees. Almost right away, Joe Schmoe Hasselhoff feels terribly lonely.
Here is where “Same Name” abandons all opportunity to educate us further about the particulars of each man’s life, including the overall human condition that haunts us all, no matter what our name is.
Instead, “Same Name” prefers the usual bunk of the genre, smoothing over significant matters of a class chasm that is an everyday reality for all Americans with dreamy ideas of how we’re all not really so different from one another.
Throwing some expensive parting gifts at his hosts and basking in this remarkably easy publicity coup, the Hoff makes a fast escape from flyover country while the “real” Hasselhoffs wave bye-bye.
(one hour) premieres Sunday at 9 p.m. on CBS.