ITV’s Saturday-night diving show Splash! gives itself an exclamation mark just so we are all clear that it’s wacky! Crazy! Wild! But it can use all the spurious punctuation it likes, Splash! is as much fun as North Korea. It’s one of those panicky “light entertainment” baubles dense with enforced jollity and a grim determination to pull us into its wet embrace.
You will try to escape, but you can never evade the clutches of co-host Vernon Kay, a presenter who is to charm, wit and spontaneity what Will Self is to Pingu, while the estimable Gabby Logan dies just a little bit as she stands beside him, wearing a rictus that means only one thing… “Help me, please, someone”. Even Tom Daley, a sexy pixie whose every appearance launches a fusillade of oestrogen-fuelled outbursts from a poolside audience of women, cannot light the darkness that is Splash!
The celebrities aren’t celebrities in any accepted sense. They are people who you might remember from something or other. They gurn and flounder, they handslap the crowd and insist they want to make their families and friends proud. They talk about learning to dive as if they have run into a burning building to rescue a family of four. Or they are heroically vacant. Just look at the majestically gormless Joey Essex (he’s called Joey and he’s in The Only Way Is Essex), one of the contestants in week two. “Let’s see what your mentor thought!” shrieks Kay. “Whaaat?” wonders Joey. The word “mentor” is obviously new to him like, possibly, “personality” and “intelligence”.
Just as you are wishing for a quick death, Caprice appears, looking very pleased with herself: “I’m Caprice and you know me as a model”. Not as a spot-welder or a scissor-lift operator. Caprice goes for the sympathy vote. “I literally broke down and started crying,” as the VT shows her literally breaking down and starting to cry over some watery non-injury. She looks sensational in her bathing costume, she does the best dive and is immediately booted out in the public vote as women across the country rise up as one to decide they hate her.
The whole thing is about three minutes of diving pulled into a 90-minute show, padded by the organised drowning known as a synchronised swimming display. Diving is over too quickly, it’s not like ballroom dancing. Diving is a blink, an elongated shudder and then it’s gone. There’s no time to become interested in any of the contestants.
Yet this is Saturday-night TV, with five million viewers. (BBC1, meanwhile, tries and fails to be clever with the soul-sapping Britain’s Brightest, a limp quiz-with-a-twist hosted by Clare Balding, another woman sports presenter who deserves better). Not a brilliant figure, but respectable enough for such an empty show. Maybe those five million people are cheeky subversives who enjoy watching the likes of Diarmuid Gavin humiliate themselves. Maybe they just can’t believe their eyes. Whatever their reasons, Splash! can never be anything other than a great big belly-flop.