Coming almost 35 years after Alex Haley had everyone wondering about their roots, "Who Do You Think You Are?" is a British format that essentially tries to enliven genealogical navel-gazing with old-fashioned star power. Each week a different celebrity delves into his or her ancestry, yielding hours that manage to be interesting and infuriating all at once -- a supreme exercise in vanity that, on cable, would probably have been titled "Celebrity Roots." Ultimately, the seven episodes play like a more commercial -- and certainly more manipulative -- version of Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s explorations of heredity and identity on PBS.
Combined with the Jerry Seinfeld-produced "The Marriage Ref," this series -- featuring Lisa Kudrow of "Friends" as a producer and one of the celebrity participants -- marks the continued recasting of NBC's 1990s sitcom stars in nonscripted fare. It's not "doing TV," I suppose, if you don't have to read lines.
Not that "Who Do You Think You Are?" isn't carefully shaped and scripted, as the celebs go on journeys of varying interest -- the weakest is perhaps the premiere, with Sarah Jessica Parker. (Oddly, her husband, Matthew Broderick, embarks on his own, separate quest later.)
Sure, it's mildly intriguing to unearth details about your ancestors, but even allowing that the stars are being good sports here, their reactions often reflect off-putting degrees of self-absorption.
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