Splash: Tuesdays 8pm Eastern Time, ABC
Since American Idol brought the competition show back to prime-time network television a decade ago, we’ve seen the genre mostly built around singing, dancing, and cooking. We’ve also seen competition shows for close to everything else such as ice skating, weight loss, job hunting, and now ludicrously enough, platform diving.
Splash is ABC’s diving equivalent to it’s other, more venerable competition franchise: Dancing with the Stars, and the competitor pool seems like it’s built from similar, if less flashy cloth, with “stars” ranging from Ndamokung Suh to washed up child stars Drake Bell and Keshia Knight Pulliam to skier Rory Bushfield (whom I have never heard of before this show) to Louie Anderson (whom bewilders me that we see him in a show about athleticism and grace in the 2010’s). The stars are coached by legendary diver Greg Louganis and advertises 2012 gold medalist David Boudia as one of the judges.
This show follows the Dancing with the Stars model of video interludes of training leading into the performance. This actually creates an interesting dissonance, as the video segments seem fairly serious, while the in-studio segments are some of the campiest and most overblown segments on network TV (the divers enter with full blown entrance music and water effects – I would kill for Louie Anderson’s theme music, which is a full blown funk score).
David Boudia and Steve Foley are a serviceable pair of judges, with Boudia providing constructive criticism, while Foley plays a much nicer Simon Cowell role. Joey Lawrence (wearing the worst haircut ever) plays a passable host, but seems shaky whenever he has to interview someone or really say anything that’s not on a teleprompter. Charissa Thompson co-hosts but comes off considerably stronger than Lawrence, albeit that’s expected from someone with extensive sportscasting experience. Greg Louganis feels criminally underused, often only appearing in videos, but comes off as the most unfailingly positive coaching figure this side of Richard Simmons. He maintains this even in the most dire of situations, such as when himself, Suh, and Kareem have to pull Louie Anderson out of the pool on the first day of training.
If there is one main concern I have with the show, it’s the casting choices seem to set up an anticlimax, as a big-air style skier (Rory Bushfield) already seems to have a huge built in advantage. Thankfully the judges seem to be grading on a curve (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Louie Anderson both received higher averages for weaker dives than Katherine Webb did). I also did not appreciate that despite claiming the audience is responsible for half of the score that we never actually get to see the audience score, since between that and the vastly sliding scale the judges use for degree of difficulty, I get the vibe that the eliminations (or at the minimum whom is forced to dive off) will very likely be arbitrary.
Additionally, the pacing seemed fairly slow, as we only saw half of the divers on the first show, and all 10 dives and packages probably could have fit in sixty minutes if they didn’t focus on padding out the remainder of the time with three synchronized swimming numbers and taking an agonizingly long time on the board before each dive.
The Final Verdict: Splash is the definition of a guilty pleasure. I enjoyed it, but if I didn’t review these for the viewing public, I would probably deny that I ever saw this show. It has potential to be a much better show if they dropped some of the over-intense reality cliches and let the show do what it shines at: being a slightly cheesy show about celebrities falling from high places. If this show can ever get it’s out of it’s own way (and with a future shift in seasons), I could very easily see this being the post-Wipeout summer mainstay that ABC’s been looking for the past few years.