ABC’s extreme mini-golf competition Holey Moley, which crowns its Season Two victor this week, has been a true delight in what has otherwise been a pretty dull summer, entertainment-wise. Partly, that’s due to the game play: Producers have improved upon Season One holes like Slip N’ Putt by making them more perilous for players, and by creating a whole raft of entirely new holes on which falling in apparently frigid water is all but certain. But the game is only one facet of the Holey Moley magic: As much as I enjoy seeing people who consider themselves elite athletes cling to and fall off enormous rotating hot dogs (and I enjoy it a lot), I’m not sure I would have kept watching if not for co-hosts Joe Tessitore and Rob Riggle. While many new shows have rushed to air this summer trying to bite the Holey Moley formula, they all fall short by failing to replicate the co-host chemistry of the original.
Holey Moley’s producers’ influences seem to be traceable not to the likes of American Ninja Warrior or The Titan Games — which each have two main co-hosts who don’t so much bounce off as mirror each other — but rather to co-host teams in beloved cult sports comedies. Think John Anderson and John Henson of the similarly absurd Wipeout, of course, but also Bob Costas and Al Michaels in BASEketball; Jim Piddock and Fred Willard in Best in Show; and Gary Cole and Jason Bateman in Dodgeball.
Do I dare to hope, too, that there’s even a little DNA from the U.K.’s non-sports show Taskmaster in there? Sure, Taskmaster Greg Davies and Assistant Alex Horne aren’t presented as peers in the same way these other broadcasting teams are (the size difference between their stage thrones tells us that), but their relationship is a crucial element running through the show, as Greg belittles Alex (literally, calling him “Little Alex Horne” despite Alex being over 6-feet tall) and Alex desperately tries to curry his favor.
(Taskmaster is, by the way, a hilariously absurd comedic game show, and I will never forgive all the non-viewers who got it pulled off The CW’s schedule after just one shockingly low-rated airing.)
Tessitore and Riggle come to Holey Moley from different backgrounds. The former is a seasoned sports commentator who’d called boxing, horse racing and college football for ESPN before co-anchoring Monday Night Football; the latter transitioned from the U.S. Marines to acting and comedy, both sketch and stand-up. At first, it was clear what the model was: Tessitore would treat this fundamentally absurd enterprise as a serious athletic contest, while Riggle undercut his gravitas. But as the series has gone on, their camaraderie has brought them closer to one another in manner and sensibility. Now, Riggle is as likely as Tessitore to compliment a masterful stroke, and Tessitore as likely as Riggle to drop a fast one-liner. The two share running jokes across episodes — about the uselessness of Course Marshal Joe (Joe Coleman), for example.
Riggle and Tessitore have also, apparently, received no orders against roasting the production or players. When new hole Beaver Creek is unveiled in the Season Two premiere, Riggle asks Tessitore what he thinks of it: “I just think they ran out of money.” (Considering a hole called Beaver Creek is one of the few that doesn’t actually involve a water hazard — and that the first two putters who fall on it end up filthy from paint that seems not to have dried yet — Riggle may be right?) Later in the season, they’re both openly contemptuous of a golfer who goes by Lizard McGee, wears try-hard-y sub-Ziggy Stardust makeup and — to their shared dismay — keeps winning.
After Lizard’s opponent gets dumped in the water twice by the spinning windmills of Double Dutch Courage, Riggle comments, “I’ve never wanted a competitor to win more than Gretchen, because she’s 56-years-old out here, she’s getting bashed in the face by these unbelievable blades of death that are whirling around and yet she still has a smile on her face.” Tessitore, drily: “Well, and of course she’s up against this jackass.” Riggle, clearly swallowing a laugh, gravely nods. When the shoe is on the other foot, Tessitore doesn’t (or can’t) resist cracking up at a good Riggle line, and while producers could edit these moments out, seeing them enjoy each other’s goofs only contributes to the overall impression of the team’s effortless charm.
Following the success of Holey Moley last year, copycats were inevitable. First came Fox’s Ultimate Tag, in May — a parkour take on the schoolyard game, so at least it answered Holey Moley in turning a chill pastime super-aggro. Someone probably thought casting the three Watt brothers (T.J., J.J. and Derek) of NFL fame would guarantee co-host chemistry; unfortunately, the Watts don’t bring a lot of wit to the project based on the evidence of the first episode, in which a chase between contestants is no reason for the brothers not to chat about whether someone farted.
Netflix’s Floor Is Lava — it’s… what you think, more or less — sidestepped the co-host chemistry issue by having just one host, Rutledge Wood, and keeping him almost entirely offscreen. In USA’s Cannonball, contestants use various contraptions to fling themselves around an artificial lake. The co-hosts here are former 106 & Park anchor Rocsi Diaz and WWE champ Mike “The Miz” Mizanin, whose interactions add nothing to the proceedings. Mizanin must have enough charisma to command a crowd of wrestling fans, and probably improv talent as well; pairing him with a comedian who could meet his energy could have made all the difference, but as it is, Cannonball is more fun to watch on mute.
I’m an adult who understands how TV is made; I know Riggle and Tessitore both have earpieces in and are probably being fed at least some of their best lines. I also know they need skill to sell whatever producers are giving them, and they have so much they almost outshine what happens on the links. Farewell, then, to my boys of summer; holey moley, am I ever going to miss you.