Splash! Some TV is so bad it's good

Tom Daley's celebrity diving show joins a notable group of television programmes that are so utterly awful we can't stop watching them

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"Tom Daley belly flops with new show"… "ITV plunges to new low with Strictly Come Diving flop" … "Tom Daley's Splash! makes a plop." Even before ITV's new diving celebrity talent show Splash! hit the screens last week, headline writers were cracking their knuckles with glee. Four minor celebrities coached to dive by Olympic medal-winner Tom Daley? It was always going to be rubbish, wasn't it?

But judging by both the colossal Twitter response and the audience figures (it was watched by an average of 5.6 million), viewers rather liked it. Splash! has already proved something of a hit in the Netherlands (where it's called Sterren Springen) and has sold around the world including to ABC in America, an outfit who knows a thing or two about popular TV. So while Splash! may be rubbish, it's good rubbish. It's rubbish that knows that judge Jo Brand knows nothing about diving and rather seeks to celebrate the fact. And I have to say I was gripped by the tension of the moment when Omid Djalili made his dive. Really I was.

But what other TV really really deserves to be described as so bad it's good? Here are some (highly personal) suggestions from me – leave yours in the comment box below.

Takeshi's Castle (Challenge)

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Forget Total Wipeout. For me the original and still the best humiliating show is Takeshi's Castle, which aired in Japan in the late 1980s and was so beloved of clip-show gurus Clive James and then Chris Tarrant that it was picked up by Challenge TV. They kept most of the Japanese format, albeit with the mildly annoying addition of a Craig Charles voiceover, including house specialities Bite the Bun (while wearing a rubber ring) and Rice Bowl Downhill (in which players have to stay in a giant rice bowl while being pushed downhill into into a swimming pool). Don't tell me this is not wonderful. Just don't.

El Dorado (BBC1)

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"Oi love you Boon-ay." With these words actor Kathy Pitkin immortalised quite the most wooden performance since Sherwood Forest won its first ever acting credit. Pitkin played Fizz, the 17-year-old bride of middle-aged Bunny (Roger Walker) in the BBC's 1980's sun, sex and sangria soap about expat Britons on the Costa del Sol. But there was much more than just awful acting to enjoy in this series that tried to make a virtue of casting inexperienced actors. For one thing you could hardly understand a word of it: the producers hadn't realised that sounds bounced off whitewashed walls, and seemed to consider the use of subtitles for foreign languages a terrible extravagance. And yet, El Dorado managed to end on a high after just over a year with Jesse Birdsall's character nearly getting blown up and vocals attached for the first time to Simon May's theme tune. The title? When You Go Away. Sniff.

Seven Days (C4)

Channel 4's TV experiment set in Notting Hill was considered a gargantuan failure, which shed viewers by the bucketload. But some people stayed with it. And I was one of those people. The twist of this show was that it happened in real time, so the protagonists were reacting to the public's reaction to them week-by-week. This made it psychologically fascinating, even if it meant that nobody ever behaved in a real, honest and convincing manner. It exerted a compelling fascination, as the predatory narcissism of its fame-hungry cast was slowly and painfully unpeeled. I even loved the way some of those involved clearly reacted badly to being on TV. Some people, such as Moktar the earnest student, were widely trailed in the opening episode and then disappeared, with no explanation given. And by the end we were just left with the self-love epitomised by Ben the pouting estate agent and models Sam and Laura. It was the perfect distillation of constructed reality.

Rosemary and Thyme (ITV3)

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Thanks to ITV3, I am currently hooked on a show characterised by its sheer, unadulterated, fantastic awfulness; a show that truly doesn't care how bad it is. Stars Felicity Kendal and Pam Ferris (no mean performers) turn in some of the worst homework of their lives as the sleuthing gardeners Rosemary Boxer and Laura Thyme. And it doesn't matter. Because the whole thing is a joyous, cosmic exercise in absurdity. A recent episode I viewed – Orpheus in the Undergrowth from 2004 – was so obvious, so riven with cliche it made Midsomer Murders look like The Wire.

Hollyoaks (E4)

Here's something to while away dull winter weekday evenings. Turn your TV on at 7pm, switch to E4, but turn the sound down. Then witness if you will the full horror that is Hollyoaks. Because only then do you realise quite how gloriously awful a drama that seems to cast people based on how they look, rather than how well they can act can actually be. Then you see the gurning that passes for acting in this most infuriating and yet compelling of television programmes. It's quite an experience. As an added bonus, you also won't have to listen to the show's appalling incidental music.

The Brit awards, 1989 (BBC1)

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Admittedly, this is a one-off, but Sam Fox and Mick Fleetwood's hosting of the 1989 Brit awards merits another look, albeit one from behind tightly knitted fingers. Quite what the organisers were thinking when pairing a 19-year-old Sam Fox with a musician of immense talent and stature but absolutely zero presenting experience is anyone's guess. But the double act served up an evening of such joyous chaos and ineptitude it has become something of a classic. The teleprompter didn't work, a promised message from Michael Jackson was never shown and Fleetwood introduced the Four Tops only for Boy George to walk out and quip: "I'm afraid I'm just the one Top." But there was a silver lining. The show was such a disaster that interest in the Brits was indeed revived, paving the way for the modern super-slick show. Really so bad it was actually good.


Ben Dowell

The GuardianTramp

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