Mini-golf show Holey Moley jumps onto, rather than over, the shark

The makers of TV series often worry about airing a ‘jump the shark’ moment, that unexpected turning point where a rash decision exposes a program’s failing and momentum suddenly becomes mockery. Ignominy is definitely an issue for Seven’s new reality competition, Holey Moley, but at least it’s facing up to the prospect. Just 40 minutes into the first episode a competitor valiantly tried to jump onto – not over – a large plastic shark circling a water tank. Talk about trying to make a big splash.

The leaper failed, face-planting into the side of the prop shark before sliding into the water, but Holey Moley may yet prove buoyant. The latest salvo in the reality TV trend of oversized and ostentatiously produced games – as opposed to the governing genre where poorly matched singles argue and fling wine at rivals – is not so much over the top as simply careening through the air because the arms of a (padded) windmill slammed into you. On this taxonomy of getting taken out, tumbling sideways with limbs flailing is the default setting.

The debut episode gave you much of the information you’ll need to make a decision about Holey Moley. It’s brash, self-aware, and determined to batter its flaws into submission. It was labelled “extreme mini-golf”, which is straight-forward but somewhat lacking – I favour “Jeff Koons reboots The Price is Right”. Hitting a golf ball around a rink has never been so ludicrously contrived.

Seven’s mini-golf show Holey Moley is the latest salvo in the reality TV trend of oversized and ostentatiously produced games.Credit:Seven Network

The mini-golf part is straightforward, even if the direction of those sequences is sometimes banal. The contestants – eight per episode, reduced in knockout pairings down to a winner headed for the finals – could be playing at their local putt-putt course, but what’s tacked on are obstacle course stunts the preening hopefuls need to do before or after teeing off. They might run across a rotating bridge, climb a slippery slope, or sprint across a narrow ledge where the doors of Portaloos are flung open by extras in cartoon character costumes. It’s as if you visited Disneyland on the day the staff rebelled.

“Gosh, that was violent,” marvels commentator Rob Riggle after one fall, and the American comic actor’s appreciation is as genuine as this show gets. Every fail gets a slow-mo replay and an exchange between Riggle and athlete turned Foxtel sports host Matt Shirvington, who valiantly plays the straight man. In matching mustard blazers the duo recreate the comedy movie bit of mock serious commentators (see Best in Show or Dodgeball). Holey Moley doesn’t just want Hollywood scale, it aims for the dialogue as well.

Daddy’s Home meets It’s a Knockout is an innocuous combination. The problem is that the humour is patchy. Golfing great Greg Norman, hailed as the “designer” of the course even though many of the holes are duplicates of the existing American edition of the show, delivers some pre-recorded comic bits that merely prove he’s better with an iron than irony. Riggle’s boneheaded persona, also imported from the US franchise, fares better. Why is he here? “Because Channel Seven paid me a lot of money,” he beamingly declares.

Matt Shirvington and Rob Riggle in Holey Moley. “Despite all the Rig(gle)marole, the show still feels incomplete”.Credit:Paul A. Broben/Seven

The show’s best feature may be its anthropological casting. The bulk of contestants in the first two episodes are from Queensland’s southern corner, complete with an Instagram-friendly golf pro, a retired army instructor with Benny Hill Show vibes, and a young man who went by the moniker ‘Fat Crumpet’. There’s a cheerfully salacious edge that distinguishes Holey Moley from Australian Ninja Warrior, complete with lubricant references and so many puns on the outer-space hole Uranus that a 12-year-old boy might suggest tapping the brakes.

Despite all the Rig(gle)marole, the show still feels incomplete. Host Sonia Kruger is a nonentity, and the oversized production values don’t provide a greater inducement, as happens on The Masked Singer. Cameos for the likes of singer Joe Dolce and Australian Idol judge Ian Dickson are daft, but the format itself was done better 30 years ago on the Japanese cult classic Takeshi’s Castle.

Holey Moley does feature in the second episode a Gold Coast nurse who plays under the speedo-wearing persona of ‘Big Sexy’, with a putter he calls ‘Little Sexy’ (paging Sigmund Freud!) and a Scottish accent that suggests he owns every Austin Powers DVD. His party trick – yes, apparently he needs one – was to kick himself in the back of the head with the sole of the shoe he’s wearing. If that’s not emblematic of watching Holey Moley, I don’t know what is.

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