Claim to Fame: celeb relatives go undercover in desperate reality show | reality TV

You might have thought that reality television hit its all-time undignified motherlode with The Masked Singer; a series in which various fading yet thirsty celebrities had to perform dress-up karaoke in the vain hope that someone – anyone – would remember who they were. It was thrillingly desperate stuff, but the good news is that the reality television industrial complex has just uncovered a brand new strata of desperation. It comes to us in the form of ABC’s new series Claim to Fame.

Because Claim to Fame doesn’t actually feature any celebrities. Instead, its stars all happen to be made up of a far worse demographic: people related to celebrities. They’re all siblings, or children, or grandchildren of very famous people, and the trick of the show is making us (and the other contestants) try to figure out the identity of their better-known relative.

It’s a historically grubby realm. This is Frank Sinatra Jr territory. It’s Chet Hanks, or Frank Stallone, or most of the Baldwin brothers, or whoever is Hulk Hogan’s daughter. It’s designed to draw out everyone’s worst impulses about privilege and nepotism. A different version of this show would have hammered this angle a lot harder, using it as a conveyor belt of out-of-touch rich kids who have never actively had to try very hard at anything to receive far more than the rest of us.

Happily, at least based on the first episode, Claim to Fame avoids this route. Nevertheless, 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 have forever been defined by their proximity to stardom – everyone they have ever met over the course of their entire lives has inevitably asked them about their famous relative – and their participation on the show only makes it worse. This was meant to be their chance to shine, their one opportunity to prove to the world that they were more than just a neglected strand on a family tree, and yet here they are, pimping out their family connections on what basically amounts to a parlor game.

And it’s not like the show tries to hide this. Everything about Claim to Fame seems designed to frame the contestants as second class citizens. They all stay together, Big Brother-style, in a house that is at one point described as “legendary”, even though it is literally just Katy Perry’s old home. And the first task of the series involves forcing the contestants to take part in a talent show, which feels absurdly cruel. There they are, related to people who’ve utilized a combination of skill and hard work to make millions of dollars, and the best thing they’re able to show us is how they can make basic cocktails or miss easy basketball shots. It’s grim viewing.

“BRITTANY”CLAIM TO FAME - “It's All Relative” – Hosts Kevin and Frankie Jonas introduce the 12 celebrity relatives who will be living under one roof and concealing their identity and lineage in the quest for the coveted $100,000 prize.  Contestants are tasked with competing in a talent show for their first challenge, with one contestant ultimately facing elimination in the premiere episode of “Claim to Fame,” MONDAY, JULY 11 (10:01-11:00 pm EDT), on ABC.  (ABC/John Fleenor) “BRITTANY”
Photograph: John Fleenor/ABC

However, once this scorn service has been shoved aside, Claim to Fame does actually start to get genuinely interesting. Because none of the contestants know who any of the other contestants are, and uncovering their true identities is the only way that they’ll win the grand prize. As such, they all quickly topple into outright paranoia. They lie, they cross-examine, they constantly scribble clues in their notebooks. They don’t get a moment’s peace. It’s a bit like being on a murder mystery night except, instead of being murdered, the victim has got a 1970s action star as a grandfather.

The level of gamesmanship that this prompts in the contestants is ridiculous. For instance, one woman is instantly recognisable, thanks to her strong physical resemblance to her sister, a very famous athlete. The obvious thing to do would be to out her at the end of the first episode for an easy win. But the other contestants all decide to keep her in their back pocket instead, picking off other less recognizable participants so they can use her as a get out of jail free card when they need it most. She now has to spend the entire series as a dead woman walking, all thanks to a crazed determination of a person who – if I had to guess – is probably Zendaya’s cousin or something. It’s an absolutely psychopathic way to live your life. It’s brilliant.

Annoyingly, I am already fully invested in Claim to Fame. There’s an argument to call it an important social experiment about the cost of fame on the people around you, but I won’t. It’s a bunch of also-rans going nuts in Katy Perry’s house. Sometimes that’s all you need.

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