Hammer's too normal for reality TV

By Joanna Weiss
Globe Staff / June 13, 2009
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MC Hammer is hardly the first career-lull celebrity to front a docu-reality show on cable TV, nor will he be the last.

Sadly for A&E, which launches the half-hour series "Hammertime" tomorrow night at 10, he is also among the least interesting. But you have to give him credit for trying. The 1990s rap star, whose real name is Stanley Burrell, is a good-natured presence who seems more than eager to let us into his life; he talks to the cameras with the pleasant enthusiasm of a slightly-more-hip Mr. Rogers.

You may recall that Hammer, as he apparently still likes to be known, had his heyday in the '90s, when he rapped and danced in voluminous pants to songs like "U Can't Touch This." He gained some subsequent attention for having and losing vast quantities of money. Reborn as a social-media entrepreneur, he now lives in a suburb in California's Central Valley, in an enormous house with moderately well-behaved kids, ranging from his 18-year-old nephew to his 3-year-old son, who has a mohawk. He is a good man, we see, who loves his kids and encourages his nephew to go to college. He's still a musician of sorts; we watch him working with dancers, putting together a music video.

He's also a big Twitter aficionado, and many of his tweets - which include such domestic gems as "Stop! Cleaning Time!" - appear onscreen, accompanied by the Twitter logo.

This show demonstrates the many ways that decades-old celebrity can still pay dividends, whether by giving you a line on thousands of Twitter followers or making you a big fish in a variety of little ponds. Hammer is the unequivocal star of his 10-year-old son's "Bring Your Dad to School Day," for what it's worth, and he's treated well when he goes to see his daughters perform at an open mike.

"Hammertime" also makes it clear that charisma doesn't fade over the years; when Hammer appears on a boring panel about social media at Stanford University, the nodding-off audience members perk up when he finally gets his turn.

But "Hammertime" also shows us that a has-been musician's home life is not so much more different than our own, and certainly no more telegenic. We watch Hammer badgering his son about a report card and searching the house for his cellphone. We see him talk to his nice, grounded wife and needle his inarticulate cousin, Marv, the show's feeble attempt at comic relief.

None of it amounts to much. A show like MTV's "The Osbournes" - which pioneered the genre - rested on the exquisite irony that a once-wild metalhead could be pushed around by his kids. A&E's often-funny "Gene Simmons Family Jewels" hinges on the fact that a walking, boasting id is actually a family man.

"Hammertime" has nothing so counterintuitive to say; it's the publicity vehicle for a nice enough guy who has become a minor expert in getting publicity. In other words, everything is right there on the surface, asking to be touched.

Joanna Weiss can be reached at For more on TV, go to


Time: Premieres tomorrow night at 10

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