ABC’s Splash makes a splash (ugh, sorry: but it was surprisingly good)

ABC’s Splash had a strong debut last night, and I mean that both creatively and in terms of its ratings. It easily beat Hell’s Kitchen, with almost twice as many viewers, and a 2.6 versus a 2.0 in 18 to 49, and bested Dancing with the Stars‘ results show among younger viewers.

The opening sequence was unexpectedly wonderful, starting with the diver in the red dress jumping off the high platform and unspooling a large red banner behind her. Then there were more divers, synchronized swimmers, and even some Cirque du Soleil-style acrobatics.

The diving and judging was less spectacular, but oddly engaging, and I’m not just talking about my shock that the person calling himself Greg Louganis was, in fact, Greg Louganis. And even Joey Lawrence’s hosting didn’t get in the way; it just sort of dissolved, like a handful of salt thrown into a pool rather than into my eyes, which is what I expected.

Louie Anderson’s dive–I mean, fall, since he just sort of tipped over and fell into the pool, though the judges called that a “swan dive”–was both hilarious and heart-warming since we’d previously watched the other contestants try to get him out of the pool (so sad).

There was sufficient eye candy (even with Drake Bell sidelined until next week) and a sufficient sense of danger. The editing did a great job of capturing the contestants’ fear. I wish we’d seen more training with the actual dives–as in, how do you get your body to do that?–but that part of Dancing with the Stars also bores me, so maybe it’s best that it was left out.

I can no longer watch Dancing with the Stars for several reasons, and after Fox’s failed attempt to do a celebrity diving competition, didn’t have high hopes for Splash. But I’ll be watching again next week for sure.

If you missed it, watch the first few minutes (which comes after the obnoxious “here’s what’s coming, please please please don’t turn the channel!” preview) and see if it doesn’t hook you, even if you resist:

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.