Last night ABC debuted Splash, the almost so-unreal-it's-real reality show not in anyway involving Daryl Hannah and Tom Hanks in which "celebrities" (air quotes definitely necessary), well, in which people jump into water on television. And guess what? It actually may be a hit.
Splash did well in the ratings: 8.8 million people tuned in, making it, according to the Entertainment Weekly, "the top unscripted series debut since Fox’s The X Factor in 2011," and the second most watched show in its 8 p.m. time slot last night (behind NCIS). Of course, some of those numbers could just be from people tuning in to see if this thing woud be a total belly-flop. (Sorry: Puns are inevitable with this show, and especially on this show.) Is anyone going to actually watch it again? Maybe. It might just be secretly everyone's favorite new show.
So, a brief recap. Splash is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Nominal celebrities, including Girls critic Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and model who once notably attended a sporting event Katharine Webb, get taught how to dive by actual diver Greg Louganis. Then they compete. The show is hosted by Joey Lawrence's hair and Charissa Thompson. It is judged by young Olympian David Boudia and old Olympian Steve Foley. There are inexplicable synchronized swimmers, and glittery costumes.
For all the absurd camp indicated in the GIF above, Splash is also somewhat self-serious. Abdul-Jabbar gets hailed for overcoming his age and his height. Heavyset comedian Louie Anderson is cheered for his bravery. There are some actual belly-flops, but not too many. (As Louganis knows, diving can be dangerous.)
For what it's worth, this is actually not the first celebrity diving show; Fox had Stars in Danger: The High Dive.
Don't get us wrong, some people hate Splash. Ryan McGee at the A.V. Club, for example, said "it's pretty much the worst." Some weren't quite as harsh. Brian Lowry at Variety wrote: "Ultimately, 'Splash' is little more than an oddity, a poorly cast diversion to try keeping a percentage of the 'Dancing' audience (which is already pretty geriatric, in TV-demo terms) tuned to ABC a little bit longer. Given the lineup of divers and the level of competition, it’s hard to see this spring fling doing much more than helping the network tread water." Allison Keene at The Hollywood Reporter had a backhanded compliment: "Splash isn't the complete disaster it looked to be from the promos."
But then there were actually some positive reactions. Adam Carlson at Entertainment Weekly wrote: "Here's the thing about Splash: It doesn't actually make any sense. And that's a compliment — if the show made any sense, it wouldn't be any fun." So it's actually a little fun, kind of like Dancing with the Stars — with a little Wipeout for good measure. And though we're obligated to read a certain level of irony into most tweets associated with this event, it did have some champions on that medium:
Oh my gosh, Splash is already my favorite show.— Whitney Jefferson (@twitney) March 20, 2013
And Splash is enough of a thing that the politicos over at Morning Joe even devoted some time to ridiculing it this morning, inciting mild Twitter outrage:
@morning_joe Splash??Really? Do we all have to leave our brains at the door when we watch t.v. anymore? What's next, trimming toenails?— Sophie Katherine G. (@ClassicSophie) March 20, 2013
So perhaps next week the fascination will subside, the show will sink (sorry) in the ratings, and we can all pretend this never happened. But for now, we know some people are taking the proverbial dive.