When shame knows no limit, father doesn't know best

By Hank Stuever
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 4, 2010; C01

The disturbing ads for "The Hasselhoffs," which premieres Sunday night on A&E, featured a toddler in red swim trunks running down the beach (in slo-mo "Baywatch"-style) and sporting a mat of fake chest hair. That's a fairly obvious metaphor for what to expect from this dull and transparently desperate reality series: Some men really are just big babies.

David Hasselhoff ("the Hoff," danke very much) is not a fussy baby; he's more of a gurgling, cooing, pleasant sort of baby who is nevertheless in a constant state of manly need. Thanks to his roles in "Knight Rider" and "Baywatch," the actor-singer's place in the '80s/'90s wing of the Museum of Cheese is secure, and yet, over decades of lucrative B-listdom, the Hoff projects an odd sense of dopey vulnerability. He gabs a lot about his remarkable skills of perseverance and positive thinking, but it's as if he only half-believes what he's saying.

A central preoccupation at the outset of "The Hasselhoffs" is the notorious home video that Hasselhoff's daughter, Taylor-Ann, shot of the performer nearly four years ago, in which he is seen drunk out of his mind, sprawled on the floor of a Las Vegas hotel room, attempting to get a cheeseburger into his mouth.

You've almost forgotten about it, but the Hoff hasn't. The video, widely viewed online and mocked hither and yon, served as the wake-up call Taylor-Ann hoped it would, putting her father on a path to sobriety.

Once you have been shamed like that, then the shame of starring in a reality TV show cannot sting, even if your show seems to be a parody of the genre, a la the still totally brilliant satire "The Comeback," in which Lisa Kudrow played a washed-up TV star submitting to the reality-show process while struggling to believe in her own self-affirming nonsense.

"I'm starting over at 57," Hasselhoff says in the first episode of his own "Comeback." "Most of the money I made is gone."

In direct contrast to that statement, Hoff Manor seems jim-dandy - all the lights in the house are on; there are drivers, hotels, flights to catch. There is even regular work (judging "America's Got Talent," for example) and people pressing Hasselhoff for autographs wherever he goes. He reportedly made millions in "Baywatch" rerun syndication fees, a show in which he invested as well as starred. And, in one of the great examples of mediocrity getting lost in translation, he has enjoyed pop superstardom in Germany, selling millions of records.

Soon enough, the real reason we've been beckoned to watch "The Hasselhoffs" becomes clear: His daughters wish to become celebrities now - nay, it is apparently their birthright- and Daddy would love nothing more than to provide.

If only "The Hasselhoffs" would just come right out and say so. What this family really wants is to have some of what the Kardashians (and innumerable others) are having, and no amount of pretend documentary scenes can wash away this cynical bid to get some. Who among us would like to inform the Hasselhoffs that they're about five years late to this charade?

Taylor-Ann, now 20, is on the verge of dropping out of the University of Arizona and returning to Los Angeles, to start a rock band with her kid sister, Hayley. Meanwhile, Hayley, 18, is anxiously waiting to see if she's going to get a part in a new TV show.

The Hoff makes a halfhearted attempt to fly to Tucson and persuade Taylor-Ann to stick with her education. "The Hoff is a character, but I'm a dad," he says. (Mom, who divorced the Hoff in 2007, is never mentioned.)

He warns his daughter about all the rejection that awaits her in show business. But then he gets to, uhhhh, thinking: "What if I'd played it safe?" the Hoff posits, during the show's constant, insipid voice-over narration. "One thing's for sure, I never would have become the German Elvis!"

And so we see the Hoff and the young princesses (badly) act their way through a family struggle over "dreams." If Hayley gets the TV show, then how will she have time to become part of a famous rock duo with her sister? Dreams cause tears: "This is my dreeeam," one or both of the daughters repeatedly whines. "I want you to go for your dream, but what about my dream?"; "She has to follow her dreams," and so on.

"Do you know how much [expletive] I've been through in my life?" Taylor-Ann asks her father.

"It can be a real hassle to be a Hoff," he sighs.

Just when psychiatrists have decided to strike narcissistic personality disorder from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (as reported last week in science journals), the Hasselhoffs make a clear case for reinstating it.

The Hasselhoffs (two 30-minute episodes) premieres Sunday at 10 p.m. on A&E.

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