In Watch This, Vox critic at large Emily VanDerWerff tells you what she’s watching on TV — and why you should watch it too. Read the archives here. This week: ABC’s Holey Moley, whose first two episodes are currently available to stream on Hulu and ABC’s website.
We are truly living in a golden age of television that could air in the background of a dystopian movie.
Picture it: As the protagonists battle against the evil and oppressive government, the rest of the populace has the wool drawn over their eyes by terrible programs aimed at the lowest of lowest common denominators. “WAKE UP!” the heroes seethe, but their friends and loved ones are too busy vegging out in front of a deeply weird reality competition with a hilariously inconsequential prize.
I first had this thought after the January debut of Fox’s The Masked Singer, a series on which elaborately costumed celebrities perform pop hits for a panel of judges who are trying to guess their identities. The show felt ever so slightly unhinged, as though it was being beamed in from some other reality, and I got just a little obsessed with it.
And I’ve had a similar feeling plenty of other times since then. Netflix’s game shows Flinch, which is literally “Don’t flinch!” the TV show, and Awake, where contestants stay awake for 24 hours and then try to complete very basic tasks, both come to mind.
And now there’s ABC’s Holey Moley, a hit amid the doldrums of summer TV. In each episode, 12 contestants compete for a $25,000 prize, a plaid jacket, and a solid gold putter. The sport, in case you hadn’t guessed: miniature golf.
Holey Moley is about 25 percent too much, which might be why I find it so endearing
Sometimes, Holey Moley feels adapted from the life of an extrovert who’s been forced to work from home, causing them to start babbling about anything they can possibly think of when they meet up with friends or family. “Notice me!” they say. “Pay attention to me! I exist!” And everybody else, confused and frightened, simply nods and smiles and says, “You are very good at existing.”
Holey Moley never wants you to stop thinking about it while you’re watching it. It all but blasts an air horn in your face to keep your attention. It’s a mini-golf competition, sure, but it’s also an obstacle course of sorts, and every hole plays out as a combination of an extreme mini-golfing course and an episode of Double Dare.
I’m half tempted to make the rest of this piece a list of things that happened just in the show’s premiere, but I’ll limit myself to five:
- Basketball superstar Steph Curry showed up in front of a roaring fire before the episode even began to promise that he would be making more “celebrity cameos” throughout the hour.
- Color commentator Rob Riggle’s face appeared in a screen affixed to the face of a golf pro robot.
- Saxophonist Kenny G toodled away on his horn to attempt to distract two women from making an important putt.
- A woman tried to race through a giant windmill (similar to the ones at every mini-golf course, but this one was human-sized) and got knocked off the fairway in brutal fashion — twice.
- A contestant best known as the “lumberjack” quietly muttered “Fart” when he missed a putt, to the giggles of Riggle and play-by-play commentator Joe Tessitore (an actual play-by-play man for ABC and ESPN who should maybe know better).
I could go on, but you get the idea.
Holey Moley is manic to a fault, and probably about 25 percent too much. But that’s also a big reason it’s so watchable. You can’t really believe that you’re seeing all of this happening on broadcast television. Sure, TV networks have been growing more desperate to draw viewers, but this desperate? And then a man in a unicorn costume misses a pivotal putt and everybody chuckles.
Each episode of Holey Moley is an hour long, making it either a half-hour too short (in that it races through many rounds of mini-golf in the name of holding finals) or a half-hour too long (in that it starts to feel a little stretched by the end). But one thing it isn’t is boring. That’s probably why it lured in a surprisingly large audience of lookie-loos (nearly 5 million viewers!) for its first broadcast.
The show has all the makings of a surprise summer hit, just goofy enough to turn your brain off to for a few weeks. But watching it, I can never escape the feeling that other people are fighting the system just over my shoulder, and that if I turn back to look at them, they’ll urge me to join the resistance. And yet if I turn away from the screen, I might miss two golfers racing each other up a slippery slope, trying to reach an advantageous position for their next putt so they, too, can win the (tiny in comparison to most other network reality shows) cash prize.
There’s a metaphor in there somewhere. I just don’t want to look for it. Holey Moley is on.