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Holey Moley is ALMOST Perfect. Here's How to Make it Even Better.

ABC's extreme mini-golf competition is easy to love, but we have some notes, most of which involve more falls and spills.
  • Joe Tessitore and Rob Riggle in Holey Moley (ABC)
    Joe Tessitore and Rob Riggle in Holey Moley (ABC)

    Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry, perhaps observing the career paths of his NBA colleague LeBron James or of Justin Timberlake, has gotten into the primetime game show producing business: on June 20, ABC premiered Holey Moley, an extreme mini-golf competition with a prize of $25,000 -- and, of course, a VERY loud green blazer.

    What can one say about a show that combines the precision of mini-golf with the physical abuse of Wipeout? It's very good. But it could be even better. And if, for instance, Big Brother is going to continue iterating on its format every season, why shouldn't Holey Moley make a few tweaks that could vault it from very good to great? Here's what I propose.

    1. Either every player has a gimmicky costume, or no one does.

    The series premiere, "Putt Up Or Shut Up," featured eight female contestants and four men. The women showed up on set in polos, half-zip pullovers, microfiber capris, skorts -- you know: the kind of clothes you wear to exercise in. Then there were the guys: the first wore a unicorn onesie; the second was in a wool beanie and flannel like he came straight from a Pearl Jam show … in 1993; then there was a matchup between a guy who looked like a suburban Evel Knievel, and one who looked like a lumberjack. I get the impulse to make a memorable impression on TV with an outlandish costume, but that all the dudes did it and all the women didn't made the guys look like fun-loving goofs and the women look like tight-assed Tracy Flicks. Mandate goofy outfits for all the contestants, or make them adhere to a golf course dress code.

    2. Give us more holes or fewer players.

    Each episode of Holey Moley starts with 12 contestants. In the first round, they are paired into six knockout matchups. The second round does the same with the six remaining contestants; then the three winners of those matchups compete in the final round. But because there are so many players to begin with, the show's edit shows only four of the six holes played in the first round (or, at least, that has been the case in the two episodes that have aired, as of this writing).

    "But," you might say, "that's because more than one matchup might take place at the same hole, so they just pick the more interesting one to air!" It is true that, in the second episode, two matchups take place at the Slip N' Putt, but based on the evidence of the first two episodes, there are a minimum of six first-round holes; none of them should be played more than once in a single episode! And even if the rationale for editing out a given first-round hole is that nothing especially interesting happened on it, I would far rather watch that game play than an intro package about whatever weird professional mini-golf association a given contestant belongs to or which of her dead relatives taught her the game.

    3. Physical injury should be possible on every hole.

    The series premiere started us off in exactly the right place: Dutch Courage. If you've seen a promo for the show, you've seen this hole: it's the one where the player must putt her ball through the blades of both a miniature windmill, of the sort one sees in any neighborhood mini-golf course; and also get the ball through the two gigantic windmills on either side of the little one; and get herself through the big windmills without getting struck by their blades. Seasoned golfer Julia immediately gets knocked into a field of gigantic artificial tulips. And look, the delight one feels at seeing anyone hurt herself is not human nature at its best. But there's a reason pratfalls are still a staple of comedy, and when Julia falls head-first into what is basically the gutter, it's pretty hilarious. But then, on the next four holes, no one gets hurt! At all! Why am I even watching?!

    The next matchup takes us to Slip N' Putt, which requires players to run up what appears to be a hill made of vinyl gym mats, coated in what I'm pretty sure is just K-Y Jelly; the contestants get pretty goopy, but the worst that can happen to them is that they slide back to the bottom...or so I thought until the second episode, "The Thunderdome Of Mini Golf," in which Evan is making a pretty good go of the Slip N' Putt hill until his feet shoot out from under him and he falls on his face, actually breaking the skin on the bridge of his nose. I have no way of knowing if the episodes were shot in the order they're airing, but if Evan's catastrophe was the result of a "more lube" note after the pilot: I approve.

    So Slip N' Putt and Dutch Courage are fine. Surf or Turf may, with a missed step, dump a player into an artificial lake. But holes like Arc de Trigolf and Caddy Smack -- the latter of which offers a flimsy pretext for Curry to cameo and drive the player's ball over to the putting green, as well as to test his skills against those of a golfing robot with announcer Rob Riggle on an iPad for a trash-talking face -- threaten no physical peril at all. (We don't know how dangerous Sweet Spot is since, in two episodes, the matchups on it have not been broadcast.) I'm not saying I want these expert putters to risk concussion or broken limbs for my entertainment. I would like to see them slip and fall badly enough for their legs to fly up and flail in the air for my entertainment, and I don't think that's too much to ask.

    4. How about a road show?

    If this show becomes a hit -- and it started strong -- producers should pack up the set pieces that can reasonably travel and take pop-up Holey Moley on the road. American Ninja Warrior conducts try-outs in cities all over the country; there's no reason even slightly scaled-down versions of Slip N' Putt or Arc de Trigolf couldn't be set up, fun fair-style, in a mall parking lot near you. And hey, if I'd had the experience of falling on my face on a lube-covered gym mat, maybe I'd have more empathy for the likes of Evan and root less aggressively for him and his fellows to wipe out in future episodes. (Probably not, though.)

    5. Rein in those commentators!

    lol jkjkjk: actual sports announcer Joe Tessitore and improv comedian Rob Riggle are perfect and should not change a thing.

    With Holey Moley, ABC really has maximized the stakes of miniature golf, and put something silly on the summer schedule that can be enjoyed by kids from one to 92. I would just love it to fulfill its true potential and achieve legend status. If a few strangers need to get their teeth knocked out for that to happen, I feel it's worth it.

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    Writer, editor, and snack enthusiast Tara Ariano is the co-founder of Television Without Pity and Fametracker (RIP). She co-hosts the podcasts Extra Hot Great and Again With This (a compulsively detailed episode-by-episode breakdown of Beverly Hills, 90210), and has contributed to New York, the New York Times magazine, Vulture, Decider, Salon, and Slate, among many others. She lives in Austin.

    TOPICS: Holey Moley, ABC, Rob Riggle, Game Shows