By: Eric Thomas

Did you watch this year’s NCAA tournament ‘Play in’ games? Maybe you watched “Hell’s Kitchen” or “What’s Cooking?” “NCIS?” Did you poke your eyes out with heated corn cob holders? Consider yourself lucky, because some of us watched “Splash,” on the menu because some of us work for a sports station in Detroit and local Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh was among the cast.

That’s not to say it wasn’t an interesting way to spend an hour. There‘s something undeniably bracing about watching the worst show in the history of television, and that phrase might not capture the scope of “Splash.” It could be the worst piece of pre-planned entertainment since the invention of seats. It makes “Cop Rock” look like “The Wire.”

The show is shot on a large set, darkly lit except for the spotlights, every surface had a slight purple tinge including the Olympic pool and diving platforms. The ceiling a series of twinkling lights that reminds you of a low budget prom. There’s an opening sequence where able bodied divers swung on a platform out of Cirque de Soleil, leaping from impossible heights, spinning like centrifuges before they entered the water with no splash. That’s the opening sequence. All downhill from there.

The show has an interesting quality that reminds you of the old “Jackass” shows on MTV, without any entertainment or sense of humor. Just when you think it can’t get any worse, it does. When the celebrities emerged, they walked through star shaped spaces in a curtain of water, all of them waving at the camera with a warm sincerity usually reserved for court ordered appearances.

When you see Rudy Huxtable drop her robe to reveal a swimsuit that looks like it was assembled on an off day at a high school metal shop and fall into a pool, you think it can’t get any worse. Then it does.

Please note of the description, this isn’t a diving show. If any instruction on diving is taking place off camera, it isn’t sticking. The stars drop off the boards with all the grace and beauty of a falling set of car keys and their confused forms displace enough water to film the “Poseidon Adventure.” At some point during the show, if you’re enough of a sadist to keep watching, you realize that the joke is on you.

The show is hosted by Joey Lawrence (yep, Blossom) and a young blonde woman who seems to be hoping this leads to other things. Lawrence appears at times to be silently cursing every decision that has led him to this point, a former teen idol forced to do a Ryan Seacrest impression. In the introduction, he even said his own name with measurable embarrassment.

The show’s format is familiar. The celebrity in question trots out onto the board, there is an interview with one of the hosts to fully document their thoughts, then they walk toward the end of the board and it’s time to provide the context. They cut to a normal pool, outside, sun soaked. Then a series of cuts showing the celebrity in their diving infancy. They pound a frustrated fist into the water and curse their inability to dive while Greg Louganis watches over with the understanding eye of a coach who will resolve this problem with his years of experience.

The problem is that in these cutaway scenes, they never improve at all. They just fall into the water with a back smacking sound. This should be a fun moment, when the celebrities seem more human, but they can’t have any fun with their failure. It must be noted that this show has NO sense of humor. Everything is treated with the severity of a herpes diagnosis. A belly flop results in a soundtrack filled with dramatic piano and tears; the producers were apparently intent on wringing out as much drama as possible, even though the absurdity of the situation is so obvious that it carries the weight of an ocean liner crashing through the screen.

After the cutaway scene, the divers fall into the water and the hosts give their immediate congratulations at how far the divers have come. This happens regardless of the quality of the dive. In watching this show, you become convinced that if a diver slipped off the platform, they would still be given a parade when they get out of the pool. After the dive they’re dragged in front of two people who we assume know a lot about diving. Of course one of them is a stuffy British guy who’s mean. Is there a receptacle somewhere where bored British guys with various expertise just wait around to be called for reality shows?

The producers of “Splash” might want to drain that pool and return Louie Anderson’s dignity after the pilot episode. In easily the most awful segment of the night, Louie Anderson performed a “swan dive” cleverly disguised as “400 lb man falls in a pool.” You probably imagine this was the whole reason Louie was invited on the show, the producers thought it would be hilarious to watch Louie Anderson fall into a pool. Apparently they lost their nerve along the way, so they cut the show so he could be Susan Boyle of “Splash.”

Somehow this was so much worse. It turned into a moment of absolutely naked pandering.

When they cut to Louie in his training period, he unfortunately couldn’t get out of the pool after he completed the first dive. It took two people, one of them Ndamukong Suh (remember him?), who reminded the camera that he plays professional football and even he had a hard time removing Louie from the pool. The cameras caught Louie crying in a moment of embarrassment at his admitted limitations.

In the lowest part of the night, the black hearted producers tried to turn Louie into a story of inspiration. The judges (even the mean British one) had an emotional moment, calling Louie’s front faced fall a “Swan Dive” and they both gave him a high score. The moment was so nauseatingly overwrought that if Santa Claus had come out with a birthday cake and tickets to Disneyland, no one would have been surprised.

Never mind that Louie has candidly talked about his personal demons before, at length and in an entertaining way. Never mind that Louie spent the last three decades as one of the most accomplished comedians in the country, the footage clearly cut to tug at heart strings. Leave it to the producers of prime time American television to make it seem like Louie finally found his salvation after falling into a pool.

In the end, Ndamukong Suh didn’t even dive. There was no reason to watch the show if you happen to be a person who works at a sports station in Detroit. If you did, you are left with an hour that you will never get back. You’re left with the hole in your soul that can only be left by “Splash.” There’s something important about the show, how it accurately maps the absolute low point of modern American culture. It forces you to stop and think that this show can’t exist by accident; there was someone along the way that thought this might be entertaining. When that thought creeps into your mind you are forced to sit on your couch, clutching knees to chest while the despair for the culture around you creeps into your mind.
Katherine Webb looked really hot, though. For reals.

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