‘Holey Moley:’ Inside TV’s Most Sublimely Silly Competition Series

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“Holey Moley” – which airs its Season 4 finale Tuesday night on ABC and is available to stream the next day on Hulu – is unlike anything else on television. It’s ostensibly an extreme mini-golf competition show, where contestants work their way through a gauntlet of oversized obstacles. (An example of said obstacles? The Distracter has contestants shooting a 15-foot putt past a wild distraction on the course – everything from a mariachi band playing riotously to a drill sergeant yelling in your face.) The courses truly test the physical and mental stamina of its players. And this week, they’re going for the jackpot – a chance to win a whopping $250,000.

But it’s also one of the funniest shows on TV. Not only are the courses themselves insane and hilarious (Hole Number Two, for instance, features contestants running past a row of porta potties being opened, potentially sending them careening into murky brown waters), but it’s hosted by two of the most engaging personalities on television. Comedian Rob Riggle, a veteran of “Saturday Night Live” and “Step Brothers,” plays up his naturally cartoonish buffoonery alongside Joe Tessitore, a really-for-real sportscaster and Riggle’s straight man.

“I’ve been employed for 20-something years as a legitimate sportscaster who transitioned to a comedic double team acting,” Tessitore joked. “But no, it’s been amazing.”

According to Tessitore, he got the pitch for the show and his response was immediate: “I’m sorry, that is so ridiculously crazy that I have to say yes.” Maybe that accounts for why Tessitore, who has no comedy background and had only met Riggle once in passing at the ESPYs, was remarkably relaxed early on.

“I remember the first day we went to go do script reads and we were all sitting there. And then we walked out there and just hung out in a trailer together and just hung out for about an hour,” Tessitore said. “I think we knew pretty instantly that things were going to work out well.” His instincts were spot on. Not only is “Holey Moley” the anchor program of ABC’s Summer Fun & Games programming line-up, but they even shot a spin-off in Australia – with Riggle. (Riggle and Tessitore also recently hosted the extremely adorable “The American Rescue Dog Show” on ABC, now also on Hulu.) “Holey Moley” is poised, at last, to be a global phenomenon.

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“Holey Moley” Isn’t All Fun and Games

While it might seem like a very elaborate goof, “Holey Moley” takes a ton of work –and sleepless nights – to be so entertaining.

Executive producer Charles Wachter pointed out, for example, that since they shot Season 3 and Season 4 at the same time, eagle-eyed viewers might have been tipped off about what was to come. “If you really pay attention last season, you could see holes that never showed up,” Wachter explained. “There are some holes that we re-skinned, and then there are brand new, exciting holes for Season 4. And it was hard! We had to save some of our best stuff, in a way, for Season 4.”

The show typically shoots in Santa Clarita, California, in the coldest months of the year, in the middle of the night. If you watch closely, you can often see contestants’ breath as they try to putt. And many of the holes involve getting knocked into water, which seems unpleasant given the temperature. Another give away to the weather forecast? The way some courses seem to “glitter.” But that’s not glitter – it’s frost.

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“Charles does it on purpose, I’m convinced of this. Rob and I have said this numerous times,” Tessitore said. “We were on the road with Charles recently enjoying some adult hydration, and we called him out on it. ‘Well, you do this on purpose. You get us out onto a set at 7:00 p.m. You drain us, you get to the point where we’re sleep deprived. You get to the point where we’re loaded up on so much espresso where toothpicks are holding up our eyelids, where Rob is mainlining peanut M&Ms. And then, and only then, when I can’t even remember what I’m saying, from about 2:30 a.m.–5:30 a.m. is when he gets 90% of ‘Holey Moley’ that next year.”

The level of deliriousness is so severe that Tessitore is frequently amazed and confounded by what makes it to air. He seems genuinely in awe of Riggle’s comedic chops and thankful to have learned so much from him over the past few years. The level of bonkers riffing going on during the filming of “Holey Moley” seems to really go off the charts.

“Rob, and I will watch an episode of ‘Holey Moley’ and text each other. And I’m saying five-minute comedy segments that he takes on that just goes off script, and the show order is now out of whack because Rob finds something to be very funny and I begin to play the straight man and tee it up for him,” Tessitore explained. “And we will text each other and say, ‘I don’t remember even saying that. Where was that?’ He’s like, ‘I don’t even remember, did that happen? I don’t even remember saying that to you. We just did five minutes on why we don’t like a certain sandwich.’ I mean, what?”

And if the baseline insanity of “Holey Moley” wasn’t enough this year, they added a very important, very gonzo (pun intended) ingredient this season: the Muppets.

Kermit the Frog Offered His Own “Holey Moley” Commentary

Having “Holey Moley” partner up with Kermit the Frog and his Muppets crew might make sense in a coldly synergistic way – Disney owns the Muppets, and they air “Holey Moley.” But it also works because – and this cannot be stressed enough – they are both extremely wacky.

The inclusion of the Muppets added a fun narrative through line to the story, with Rob teaming up with some of the Muppets (including the always hilarious Pepe the King Prawn, performed by Bill Barretta) in an increasingly desperate effort to “save the show.” (Unsurprisingly, his plan backfires.) There was also what was objectively the season’s brightest highlight: when Kermit (Matt Vogel) joined Tessitore and Riggle in the booth to offer some color commentary.

“It wasn’t just me saying we want the Muppets. The Muppets had to look at ‘Holy Moly’ and go, ‘OK, this makes sense for us,’” Wachter said.

To Wachter, the pairing of the Muppets and Riggle made perfect comedic sense. “Riggle and the Muppets are great. Because Riggle is kind of a confident idiot. That’s just the gag. He’s super confident. And a lot of ways, the Muppets have that same energy. They commit hard to what they think, but they [are not] necessarily always on the right path for success. That really works well with Rob and ‘Holey Moly.’”

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Wachter also said that nothing beat the star power of having the iconic Muppet characters on set. “We’ve had all sorts of celebrities on the show,” he said. “But I’ve never seen a crew or contestants react as strongly as when Mrs. Piggy and Kermit were on set. The star power of the Muppets was evident.”

Tessitore was similarly blown away by the experience.

“I thought it made for the best storytelling we’ve had,” Tessitore said plainly of the competition series’ guest stars. “I think as ‘Holey Moley’ goes on, you’re always going to have the competition show with a quarter million dollars on the line. To the core, that’s what we do. But this season has a great story arc to it and has great comedy bits to it. And it allows Rob to have that freedom. And his interaction with the Muppets is magnificent. And Kermit’s up in the booth with us. And he’s doing it the way we do it, so he’s up there for endless hours to the point when there’s no competition going, Rob’s up and he’s off getting a coffee and this and that, he’s chasing down snack foods. And I sit there, I’m going through the notes for the next script that’s coming up and Kermit is to my left. And you’re up there for so long that you forget it’s Kermit the Frog.”

The partnership was so successful this season, it’s enough to make you pray they’ll bring the Muppets back for “Holey Moley” next year. Unless they’re cooking up something even more absurd.

Can We Expect a “Holey Moley” Season 5?

When I asked about next year, Wachter implied that they could actually film the following season in Australia alongside that version of the show, instead of production taking place across the highway from Six Flags Magic Mountain.

“I don’t even know if I’m allowed to tell you what my ideas [are] for Season 5 and 6, but they’re so stupid – and they’re so good,” said Wachter, the man who came up with Double Dutch Courage, where contestants put down a fairly straight green but then have to run past two giant windmills (which are also on fire). “And the holes are different, right? The holes are different because they need to be fun and violent and silly.”

The more fun and violent and silly, the better.

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