Claim to Fame: Celebrity Relatives Go Undercover in Desperate Reality Show |  Reality tv

Claim to Fame: Celebrity Relatives Go Undercover in Desperate Reality Show | Reality tv

Yyou might have thought that reality television caught up with its all-time undignified mother with The Masked Singer; a series in which various faded but thirsty celebrities had to perform karaoke in disguise in the vain hope that someone – anyone – would remember who they were. It was electrifying and desperate, but the good news is that the reality television industrial complex has just discovered a new layer of despair. It comes in the form of the new ABC series Claim to Fame.

Because Claim to Fame doesn’t actually feature celebrities. Instead, its stars are all made up of a much worse demographic: people related to celebrities. They are all brothers, or children, or grandchildren of very famous people, and the trick of the show is to make us (and the other competitors) try to understand the identity of their best known relative.

It is a historically dirty kingdom. This is Frank Sinatra Jr.’s territory. It’s Chet Hanks, or Frank Stallone, or most of the Baldwin brothers, or whoever Hulk Hogan’s daughter is. It is designed to bring out everyone’s worst impulses regarding privilege and nepotism. A different version of this show would have hammered this corner much harder, using it as a conveyor belt of out-of-this-world wealthy kids who never had to actively engage in anything to receive so much more than the rest of us.

Fortunately, at least based on the first episode, Claim to Fame avoids this path. However, it still carries an element of low-level tragedy. All of these people, to some extent, have lived their lives in the shadow of a celebrity. They’ve always been defined by their closeness to stardom – everyone they’ve met over the course of their entire life has inevitably asked them about their famous relative – and their participation in the show only makes matters worse. This was supposed to be their chance to shine, their only chance to prove to the world that they were more than just a neglected strand on a family tree, yet here they are, tapping into their family ties on what basically amounts to a parlor game.

And it’s not like the show tries to hide it. Everything about Claim to Fame seems designed to frame competitors as second-class citizens. They are all together, Big Brother style, in a house that at one point is referred to as “legendary”, even if it is literally just Katy Perry’s old house. And the first task of the series is to force the contestants to take part in a talent show, which seems absurdly cruel. Here they are, related to people who have used a combination of skill and hard work to make millions of dollars, and the best thing they can show us is how they can make basic cocktails or miss easy basketball shots. It is a dark sight.

Photograph: John Fleenor / ABC

However, once this contempt service is put aside, Claim to Fame actually starts to get really interesting. Because none of the contestants know who the other contestants are, and finding out their true identities is the only way to win the top prize. As such, they all quickly fall into full-blown paranoia. They lie, they question, they constantly scribble clues in their notebooks. They don’t get a moment of peace. It’s kind of like being on a murder mystery night except that instead of being killed, the victim has a 70s action star as his grandfather.

The level of playing skill this suggests to competitors is ridiculous. For example, a woman is instantly recognizable, thanks to her strong physical resemblance to her sister, a very famous athlete. The most obvious thing to do would be to take her out at the end of the first episode for an easy win. But the other contestants all decide to keep it in their pocket, eliminating other less recognizable participants so they can use it as a free card to get out of jail when they need it most. Now she has to go through the entire series like a walking dead woman, all thanks to the insane determination of a person who – if I had to guess – is probably Zendaya’s cousin or something. It’s an absolutely psycho way of living your life. It is brilliant.

Annoyingly, I’m already fully invested in Claim to Fame. There is an argument for calling this a major social experiment on the cost of fame for the people around you, but I won’t. That’s a bunch of crazy people at Katy Perry’s house too. Sometimes that’s all you need.

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