Same Name: TV Review

Sonja Flemming/CBS
@font-face { font-family: "Cambria"; }p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal { margin: 0in 0in 0.0001pt; font-size: 12pt; font-family: "Times New Roman"; }div.Section1 { page: Section1; } Celebrities and the everyday people who share their names swap lives for a few days in this implausible yet amusing reality show that nudges our stereotypes about fame and class.

Celebrities and Average Joes, who happen to share the same moniker, swap lives in the new CBS series.

Just how misunderstood are Hollywood celebrities? Ensconced in their rarified, red-carpet worlds of wealth and never-ending attention, it can be easy to conclude that most have forever lost touch with the everyday struggles of the blue-collar masses.

Fortunately for A-list stars, reality television provides a platform to redress the misconception that, by definition, fame negates the possibility of being down to earth. From The Osbournes to Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica to Ryan and Tatum: The O’Neals, shrewd celebrities have mastered the art of simultaneously exposing the mundane and sometimes unseemly aspects of their private lives as a means to reconnect with fans and remake their brand anew.

The latest iteration of the genre of celebrity re-introduction -- and one of its more amusing -- is CBS’ new show Same Name. Produced by Cris Abrego (Flavor of Love), Ben Samek (The Amazing Race), Christian Sarabia (For the Love of Ray J), Fax Bahr (MADtv) and Eugene Young, the show’s life-swap, Freaky Friday-like premise -- in which celebrities and those who share their famous names trade lives for a few days -- is, to say the least, not exactly an organic concept.

In the premiere episode, David Hasselhoff -- yes, you read that correctly -- trades places with a small-town Texas electrical technician and lawn-maintenance worker who was given his famous name years before “The Hoff” became a singing sensation in Germany or ever settled into the driver’s seat of that talking car. In fact, the short, bald Hasselhoff was actually named after his father, David Hasselhoff Sr., not the guy who likes to don Speedos and show off his chest hair.

So, what’s the famous Hasselhoff’s motivation to play along with this whole conceit?  “I think people are curious about celebrities because it’s a crazy life and it’s a magnificent life,” Hasselhoff explains, “and this was kind of an opportunity to say, ‘Hey, this is who I am, and we have the same name. Who are you?’ ”

So, the actor-singer hops in his Learjet from California to Brazoria, Texas, where he meets the members of his newly extended family and passes out autographed pictures of himself. “These things get me through life,” he says, seemingly nervous.

Keys to houses and rides are exchanged (including one for Kit!), and the appropriately blown-away country mouse gets into the city mouse’s plane, pops some champagne and departs for an adventure in Cali.

“David’s never been west of El Paso, Texas, so I don’t know how well he’s gonna do in L.A.,” Corey, Hasselhoff Jr.’s wife says, displaying mixed feelings so many Americans seem to have regarding those who dwell in the vicinity of Beverly Hills.

What follows during the Hasselhoff switcheroo is an alternately predictable and charming exploration of the divide that separates Hollywood elites from working-class America. But each man seems to learn something unexpected in the process.

“I never thought being a celebrity would be this hard,” Hasselhoff Jr. says as he struggles to keep up with the star’s daily workout with a personal trainer. Much more daunting, however, is a hilarious scene in which our would-be celebrity pays a visit to a meeting of the Knights of the West Coat, a Hasselhoff fan club creepy enough to make you vanquish all daydreams of attaining fame.

Back in Texas, “The Hoff” assumes the role of working-class hero, hopping inside an industrial-size circuit breaker and cleaning off an inch-thick layer of oil with a rag. Good times. And what’s more fun than mowing a few lawns after working an eight-hour shift?

“I’m so exhausted, and then I realize, wow, they do 11 lawns a day,” Hasselhoff says. “These people do not have it easy.”

Although there’s really no question of whose life you would pick if you had to choose one, you still come away from Same Name with a new appreciation of what it is to live in the skin of each Hasselhoff, both of whom, it turns out, seem like pretty decent guys.

  Future celebrity switchers include Kathy Griffin, Mike Tyson and Reggie Bush.