These are, undoubtedly, dark times. Between the botched response to the coronavirus epidemic and the unfolding protests against racial injustice, it’s hard not to be bummed. While it’s important to be emotionally and intellectually present, taking in all of the information, and staying safe and knowledgable. But it can be a little much. Luckily, for about an hour every week, you can get away from it all, as you are magically transported to an outrageously oversized mini-golf course somewhere outside of Los Angeles, for a little something called Holey Moley. This competition show, which airs on Thursday nights at 8 pm on ABC, is the most purely joyful show on television — a madcap explosion of competitive gamesmanship, light trash-talking, and imaginative set design. What more could you want?
Holey Moley premiered last summer and ran for 10 glorious episodes. This is how the world was introduced to the admirably absurd concept: Miniature golf titans would compete during their episode against increasingly obnoxious obstacles and the winners would ultimately face-off in the finale for $250,000. Its genius lies in the simplicity of its concept and the prankishness with which that concept is brought to life, which has been elevated and elaborated upon in Season 2, with even more rococo courses (designed by the same folks who provide similar obstacles for American Ninja Warrior and Titan Games) and recurring gags.
Small improvements this season have included a windmill (meant to knock you off course and into a frequently freezing lagoon) with five blades instead of four, to make things even harder for the competitor and even more hilarious for us. (That course is called Double Dutch Courage. Last season it was just Dutch Courage.) A favorite course this year has become the Hole Number Two, which sees contestants running across a narrow gauntlet past an array of portable toilets that open up as the poor golfer is dashing across. The opening doors will undoubtedly send them crashing into the water (I don’t think anybody has survived that run yet). Everything is giddily insane — just recounting the courses makes me think that Holey Moley really should be celebrated for being one of the smartest, silliest shows on television.
Much of the appeal of Holey Moley comes from the ingenious commentator team, comprised of Rob Riggle, modern comedy legend from The Other Guys, Talladega Nights and 21 Jump Street, and veteran sportscaster Joe Tessitore, who has covered actual sporting events for ABC and ESPN and serves as the straight man to Riggle’s unhinged maniac. (That said, this season Tessitore has loosened up and has fallen into just as many endless giggle-fits as Riggle.) Their chemistry cannot be topped and their back-and-forth helps make the show so compelling and hilarious. Last week’s episode had Riggle notice that some celebrities (Zac Efron and Josh Duhamel) were in the crowd cheering on a competitor. Riggle became so obsessed with the handsome men that a few segments later Riggle was seen in the crowd, smelling Duhamel’s hair (apparently without him ever noticing). Later in the episode, Duhamel joined them both in the booth and sat on Riggle’s lap.
And as ingeniously as the goofy courses were last year, this year has additional gags, like a course called Diving Range where the two competitors have to dive into a large body of water, against a very talented, trained diver. (If they score higher than the diver, they get to putt first.) When the judges go to award their dives a score, they always give the trained diver a terrible score, verbally berating him. Also, one of the judges, for some reason, is Steve Guttenberg from Police Academy.
Another recurring gag has Jon Lovitz playing “Long Jon Lovitz,” hitting the player’s ball from an elevated platform, even though he’s wearing an eye patch and has very poor depth perception. The contestant then has to hit the ball from wherever Lovitz’s putt landed it. Why any of this is happening remains a mystery to the contestants (which, this season, included bestselling mystery writer Karin Slaughter – she didn’t make it past the first round) and the viewers. There is no real explanation given. But it doesn’t matter, since it’s so much fun.
There has been an additional layer of surrealism slathered onto this season thanks to the coronavirus. It’s very clear that they didn’t get to finish shooting a bunch of segments, including stuff involving executive producer Stephen Curry and his ultimate course this season, the Tomb of Nefertiti. (There’s an ongoing joke as to whether or not it was ever actually built.) But these animated interludes actually add to the charm and playfulness of the show, and never stand out as being a quarantine-mandated shortcut. (An Australian version of the show, also co-hosted by Riggle and featuring many of the same courses, was in production when the shutdown happened and one of the crewmembers admitted to being in contact with a carrier. That version should resume filming later this year in Australia.) In a weird way, the pandemic added to the playfulness and invention of the show, and the animation is really good.
If you don’t care about mini-golf or sports or competition reality shows, that’s fine. You probably still enjoy seeing people get violently knocked into a large pool of water, which is one of the show’s chief attributes and obsessions. There are so many courses where contestants can potentially get flung, fall, or pushed into the water against their will. This season it’s been even more clear that they are filming the show in winter, and a point has been made to give Riggle a big heavy jacket and leave Tessitore with nothing. The gag with the jacket is very funny but it also serves a larger purpose since we now know how cold it will be when these folks get batted into the water. There really is something primordially silly and entertaining about seeing someone (who isn’t you) get blasted with a water cannon and then fall into a pool or hang on for dear life as an oversized hot dog wiener rotates atop a fake grill. The commentators frequently lose their cool, which makes the entire thing even more hilarious.
Holey Moley is made of a bunch of small details that delight and surprise during each episode, even if you see them coming — the presence of the Holey Moley mascots, a bunch of full-sized adults dressed as gophers; Riggle’s loud-ass pants; the brief, often hilarious biographies of the contestants that emphasize their competitive spirit while also presenting them as the most cuddly people on planet earth. This speaks to another one of the show’s many charms, which is just how sweet-natured everyone is, even when they’re talking trash.
If you haven’t ever seen Holey Moley, now’s the time. There are a few episodes left this season, so who is going home with that $250,000 cash prize (and whether or not Curry’s long-promised, Egyptian-themed ultimate hole actually exists) is still very much a mystery. And you can catch up, since all of the episodes from both seasons are available on demand, on Hulu, and ABC.com. It’s the rare family-friendly primetime show that doesn’t ever feel too cute or safe. Instead, it’s just a joyful celebration of the silliness of life and the elemental power of oversized gophers, portable toilets, and Steve Guttenberg screaming.