“The Sopranos” premiered in 1999, promising a new era in which television would supplant film as not just the dominant mode of entertainment in the English-speaking world, but also the most rich and engaging form of cultural expression.
Twenty years later, ABC debuted “Holey Moley.”
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Which of the two shows proves to be a more legitimate claimant to the title of GOAT is long to be determined. Critics and academics, after all, have had many years to parse the legacy of the former show — while the second season of the latter is set to premiere Thursday night on the Alphabet.
“Holey Moley II: The Sequel,” as Season 2 is being called, takes the premise of the original and amplifies it. Season 1 featured contestants battling their way through an extreme miniature-golf course that owes a debt of gratitude to obstacle-run shows such as “Wipeout.” Season 2 also features that, but more.
“It’s bigger and there are more holes,” says series creator and executive producer Chris Culvenor.
For those who enjoyed the show’s addition to ABC’s summer lineup of primetime game shows last year, that’s not bad news. The joy of “Holey Moley” is its straightforwardness — contestants with often no relevant expertise competing in a ridiculous game, and doing so earnestly. Very normal people trying hard to best one another on a hole such as Slip N’ Putt, in which they must race to the top of a steep, wet incline in pursuit of better ball placement, is funny. (It can also be harrowing. Last season one contestant bloodied herself and the course while tumbling down Slip N’ Putt.) This is a show that, in its first season, ended every episode with two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry and a guy in a gopher costume and another guy with a goatee soberly awarding the winner a golden putter and plaid jacket.
The tension between the absurd and the serious carries over into the broadcast booth, where “Monday Night Football” play-by-play man Joe Tessitore and comedian Rob Riggle serve as announcers.
“Joe is the absolute professional,” says Riggle. He and Tessitore first met last year, roughly an hour before they started taping Season 1. “He calls a great game. It doesn’t matter what the game is. My job as the color commentator is to add some fun and keep it light. Joe is a great partner, because Joe is a naturally funny guy, and he and I sincerely enjoy each other’s company. We’re like two buddies just watching what everybody else is watching, and commentating on it.”
What they and everybody else are watching is often an example of what humor researcher Peter McGraw dubbed the Benign Violation Theory, which states, “Humor occurs when and only when three conditions are satisfied: (1) a situation is a violation, (2) the situation is benign, and (3) both perceptions occur simultaneously.”
For instance, Dutch Courage. The Season 1 hole that Culvenor says was a touchstone when designing new holes for Season 2 calls for players to hit a ball past the rotating blades of two gigantic windmills — and then run past those same blades to get to the ball. When the players are struck by the windmill blades (as they often are), they incur no penalty. They are simply knocked over into a bed of giant fake tulips. The collisions often appear violent, but contestants are, after slow-motion replay, always shown happily mini-golfing away a seeming moment later.
Riggle cites a new, improved Dutch Courage as his favorite hole in Season 2.
“This year, they added a blade to the windmill,” Riggle says. “And they sped it up.”
There were other tweaks as well, such as doubling the number of holes (many of the new ones involve the possibility of players falling into water), reducing the number of contestants per episode and creating a finale in which all the season’s winners compete for a $250,000 cash prize. Gone is the hole in which Curry, an exec producer, would face off with a golfing robot operated by Riggle. In is a recurring animated sequence starring Curry about which Culvenor offers few details — except to say that it was in part born of necessity, thanks to the industry-wide production shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. (“The great thing about Steph is he absolutely leans into the comedy of the show,” Culvenor says.)
That shutdown didn’t otherwise affect Season 2, with almost all shooting having been completed days before the shutdown began — though some post-production work was handled remotely. As a result, “Holey Moley” returns to TV at a time when viewers are starved for sports. The show certainly does not qualify as live sports, but it kind of resembles it in certain ways, if you squint at it.
“I would like to say that it does count as a sport,” Culvenor says. “Though it might be a sport from another dimension.”
“Holey Moley II: The Sequel” premieres May 21 at 9 p.m. on ABC.
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