Who Do You Think You Are? -- TV Review

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Ever wonder whether a distant relative of yours cleaned latrines for Gen. Custer or procured poodles for Marie Antoinette? Me neither, but apparently there is enough fascination with genealogy for NBC to give it an hour every Friday night for seven weeks.

In each episode, a celebrity with scant knowledge of their ancestry makes like a contestant on "The Amazing Race," flying hither and yon in search of clues.

At each prearranged stop, the celeb meets with a genealogist, who already has done the heavy lifting. The genealogist provides evidence (or, in some cases, educated guesses) that someone on one of the higher branches of the celebrity's family tree was involved in some historic event or another. The revelations are invariably accompanied by gasps of utter disbelief.

To a degree, surprise is a natural reaction. However, it can be overdone, as in the premiere episode when Sarah Jessica Parker learns relatives on her mother's side briefly looked for gold in California and before that barely survived the Salem Witch Trials of 1692.

"I just can't believe this," Parker declares nearly a half-dozen times. "Un-be-lievable," she says again and again. For good measure, she throws in "Oh my gosh," "This is crazy," "This is really incredible," "Incredible," "That's amazing" and a few other variations.

At one point, Parker learns that her 10th great grandmother was involved with the Witch Trials, but it's not clear how. "I'm feeling so worried now," she exclaims. "She might have been hung. I'm feeling so nauseous." Yeah, genealogy can do that to you.

The next week, former Dallas Cowboys star Emmitt Smith is, thankfully, more restrained. He finds ancestors who were born into slavery. DNA testing suggests family members once lived in or around Benin, on Africa's west coast, reason enough for a visit to the area.

Others whose family trees get shaken are Matthew Broderick, Brooke Shields, Susan Sarandon, Spike Lee and Lisa Kudrow, an executive producer of the series, a format adapted from British TV.

If one dispenses with the seemingly coaxed melodrama, the well-rehearsed family scenes and the endlessly repetitive bumpers, an occasional nugget of helpful information on tracing family roots is discovered.

Of course, if one really wants to watch celebrity genealogy done right, check out "Faces of America With Henry Louis Gates Jr.," which began last month on PBS. Gates, who initially tracked the ancestry of blacks, has expanded his efforts to include Americans of all stripes. No one on that series gets nauseous.

Airdate: 8-9 p.m. Friday, March 5 (NBC)
Production: Wall to Wall Media and Is or Isn't Entertainment. Narrator: Mocean Melvin
Executive producers: Alex Graham, Lucy Carter, Lisa Kudrow, Dan Bucatinsky, Don Roos
Co-executive producer: Bryn Freedman
Senior producer: Sarah Feltes
Supervising producer: Anna Kirkwood
Consulting producer: Lee Metzger
Line producer: Carrie Riley-Paul
Executives in charge of production: Helena Ely, Heidi Cayn Friedman, Lynne Morgans
Director of photography: Mike Robinson
Production manager: Jim Albarano
Lead editor: Dava Whisenant
Music: Jeff Lippencott, Mark T. Williams