David Hasselhoff, Meet David Hasselhoff
Celebrities switch places with regular folks on Same Name.
CBS explains Same Name (Sundays at 9 p.m. ET) as "a reality series about celebrities trading places with total strangers who just happen to share the same name." Next week, for instance, Kathy Griffin, a fiberglass saleswoman from Fayetteville, Ga., will step for a few days into the pinching shoes of Kathy Griffin, the comedienne. Promos suggest that the nonfamous Kathy Griffin will learn some lessons about tolerance from the famous Kathy Griffin's fierce gay entourage. There also exists the possibility that the Kathy Griffin, a big plastic surgery fan, will learn that some of the other lady's fiberglass has wound up in her face.
It should be evident that Same Name is as warm and mindless as an idyllic Sunday in idlest July, and this reviewer, hoping to avoid watching it, tried to subcontract the job out to civilians who happen to share their names with America's best TV critics. But it turned out that a majority of America's best TV critics have singular names. James Poniewozik, Alan Sepinwall, Ginia Bellafante—these are apparently the appellative equivalents of hapax legomena. And the Nancy Franklins I managed to track down were not as adept as their namesake at working on deadline.
This left us with the Troy Pattersons of the world. Recently, 18 guys named Phil Campbell convened to support the tornado-struck town of Phil Campbell, Ala., and I had hoped that the Troy Patterson community would pull together in the same spirit of generosity. In fact—and although I'm certain that we would acquit ourselves well in the case of a natural disaster—Troy Pattersons were generally shy about commenting on the man-made one of American culture. However, one of us, a Realtor in D.C., wrote back to say that he couldn't decide which post-show prospect is sadder, "having to go back to the life of an ordinary Joe or back to the life of a D-list celebrity where it's gotten so bad you have to do a show like this to restart your career." Thank you, Mr. Patterson, for your response, and especially for using the term "D-list," which offers a convenient segue.
The David Hasselhoff who starred on Knight Rider and Baywatch has in recent years been most famous for providing gossip sites and late-night comics half-decent material about the sloppy consequences of his binge drinking. The David Hasselhoff who makes a living by helping out his dad (David Hasselhoff Sr.) as a power technician also does landscaping and yard work. An early moment finds the workaday David Hasselhoff in the kitchen of his house in Lake Jackson, Texas. He is on the phone, attempting to make a dinner reservation under his own name and therefore getting hung up on. (Presumably, this fate never befalls the notorious David Hasselhoff, because his assistant makes his dinner reservations for him and she gets hung up on instead.) The humble Hasselhoff seems like a stand-up guy; the Hollywood Hasselhoff has had well-documented difficulties standing up. Hereafter, to avoid confusion, I will follow the example of the Texas Hasselhoff and refer to the other guy as "the Hoff," as in, "I imagine that the Hoff's life is gonna be easy."
Actually, it turns out that there's a lot of work involved in being a somewhat-out-of-work actor. Staying fit, grooming, pet grooming, meeting with the agent about commitments to other reality shows, touring Europe crooning songs like "Hooked on a Feeling" and "Hey, We Wanna Rock the World"—the Hoff has a lot of hassle in his life, Hasselhoff learns. Perhaps the oddest part of his four-day visit involved subbing in for the Hoff at a gathering of a Knight Rider fan club. My initial concerns that the Hoff's fans would be disappointed to meet a pedestrian Hasselhoff proved unfounded, disturbingly so, with the most hard-core Hofficiandos proving to be the most thrilled. What's in a name? The clammy attention of passionate fans. "I was really wantin' to run for the door and just hide," says Hasselhoff, "but I stuck it out just because I figured that's what the Hoff would do." He signs a few autographs.
Meanwhile, out in Texas, the Hoff makes a mild fool of himself, intentionally and otherwise. Fresh off the chartered jet, first introduced to Hasselhoff and his lovely wife and adorable new baby, he hams up a Texas accent. Soon this affectation, which seems possibly unconscious, subsides, and the Hoff spends the rest of the episode speaking in a steady gentle slur. When he says, "I felt very, very at ease with the Hasselhoffs," he conveys a keen sense of relaxation—sedation, even. Then he gets to chatting about life in Los Angeles. ("You don't really know who your neighbors are, nor do you want to know") and his dreams of a vacation home in Europe ("There's a lot of castles for sale"), and his hosts respond in the only decent way possible ("Oh, really?").
You don't have to be Maureen Ryan—either the AOL television critic or the U.K. fortune teller—to know how the show unfolds. In an exemplary camp performance, the Hoff gets his hands dirty and gets back in touch with good heartland values, as opposed to the kind exhibited by groupies in Vienna. The real Hoff keeps it real, and the Texans decide that he's "really down to earth," an expression used exclusively to describe notable people who are notably not jackasses. He leaves motivated "to go back and spend time with my Hasselhoffs." The real real Hasselhoff, for his part, learns how green the grass is, and he eats some good lox for breakfast, and he misses his baby, and he gets to drive the real K.I.T.T. to the airport on his way home.
Last week, CBS News, always eager to make itself useful, previewed a forthcoming episode of Same Name in which a Michigan man named Mike Tyson will get in the ring and do some sparring while the former undisputed heavyweight champion of the world works a shift as a registered nurse. There are two ways to think about the possibility of Iron Mike being entrusted with the professional care of the physically ill. One is to assume it's all make-believe. The other is to pray that he repeats a quote he once gave to a sportswriter before his 1990 fight with Alex Stewart: "It's nothing personal, but I'm going to kill this guy."
Troy Patterson is Slate's television critic.
Photograph of David Hasselhoffs by Sonja Flemming/CBS ©2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.