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October 6, 2015

'The Marriage Ref' Would Be Funnier Without the Celebrities

by Joel Keller, posted Mar 1st 2010 11:29AM
The Marriage Ref
'The Marriage Ref' is a strange beast. After watching last night's post-Olympic sneak preview of the show, which moves to its Thursday at 10PM ET slot on March 4, it feels like a '60s-style celebrity panel game show joined to a TLC marriage show.

It's a pretty straightforward idea: a married couple is depicted having an argument over a specific issue. In the pilot, for instance, one husband wanted to get his recently-deceased dog stuffed and display the mutt in the living room, over his wife's vehement objections.

The celebrity panel, who in the premiere consisted of Kelly Ripa, Alec Baldwin and executive producer Jerry Seinfeld, talk and joke about the situation, coming down one one side or the other. The final decision is rendered by the ref, host Tom Papa, who tells the couple via satellite feed.

But the pilot made me want to see much more of the couples having their funny conflicts than the celebrities yukking it up over those conflicts. And that's a problem.

Yes, a half-hour show of people arguing over a stuffed dog or a stripper pole in the bedroom (the other argument that was mediated in the premiere... I'm guessing the hour-long episodes will contain four couples' disputes) might get tired. But I quickly got sick of seeing the poorly-edited observations of Alec, Kelly, and Jerry; it just felt like they were all stretching to make lame jokes about these silly arguments. And the cutaways to see the panelists' reactions to the couples and each others' jokes was just painful to watch. The show somehow made three very funny people look unfunny and judgmental, and that's a crime of comedy.

I just wanted to see more of the spray-tanned candidate for 'The Real Housewives of Long Island' have a coronary over the prospect of having a stuffed dog in her house. And that's not such a good thing, either; like most reality shows of this stripe, I feel I'm more laughing at these couples than laughing with them.

Seinfeld's point in bringing this show to life is that these are the kinds of arguments every couple has, and wouldn't it be nice if everyone had a ref like Tom Papa to listen to the arguments and give a decision. But in order to make these arguments TV-friendly, we're not seeing everyday disputes like whether a spouse's mother-in-law can move in, or that someone doesn't do enough stuff around the house. No, we're seeing stuffed dogs and stripper poles, and in a later episode, a guy who keeps his motorcycle in the living room. Instead of relating to them and finding the humor in how normal they are, we just laugh at them.

If Jerry Seinfeld and his star power wasn't attached to this show, this definitely would have ended up somewhere on TLC or Style or another cable outlet. But the sheen of celebrity Jerry's going to be able to bring in -- future judges include Larry David, Ricky Gervais, Eva Longoria, Tina Fey, and a freakishly nipped-and-tucked Madonna -- isn't going to make this show any less awkward or obnoxious.

Couple of notes:

-- The sports theme is going to also get old. There's no need for Marv Albert to be there to do the announcing, and the telestrator that Papa uses feels like nothing but a gimmick they force themselves to use.
-- Papa is an affable-enough host. But it felt like he was doing a lot of teleprompter reading and not a lot of off-the-cuff riffing. When he did talk off-the-cuff, or was using pieces of his stand-up routine, he was much funnier.
-- Every time I see Natalie Morales do some silly show like this -- she's the "Just The Facts" person that spews stats and adds some info about the argument at hand -- it makes me wonder if she's putting her Rutgers journalism degree to good use (then again, I have a computer engineering degree, so who am I do judge?).

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This show is aweful. I lasted about ten minuets last night and had to chage the channel.

March 05 2010 at 10:16 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Guess I'm not tuning in, then. The only reason I was even considering it was for the celebrity judges!

March 02 2010 at 11:14 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Just painful to watch. J Seinfeld comes back to TV with this ?! Who the #$%^ is advising him ? Kramer ?! No, this show must be cancelled and cancelled post haste, seriously. At the very least it needs to be moved off NBC and to something like Comedy Central --very, very late at night.

March 01 2010 at 11:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Wow. Yes, if Seinfeld wasn't part of the show, there would be no guest judges of the caliber presented on the first ep or promised on future shows. If this manages not to get canceled, the future judging panel will end up being populated by the likes of Carrot Top and Arsenio Hall. (Sorry Arsenio!)

March 01 2010 at 10:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Honestly, I don't understand the comments about this show at all. I thought it was hilarious, and the best part was the celebrities. I think the danger will be having unfunny guests.

Best show in the world? No. But it made me literally laugh out loud a couple of times (mostly Alec). Then again, maybe I was just in an extremely good mood still from Canada winning then gold, haha.

March 01 2010 at 10:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I think the blog post should be retitled:

"The Marriage Ref Would Be Funnier if it Weren't On TV At All".

Agreed. This show was awful...just like I thought it would be. Idiots.

March 01 2010 at 5:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Chris Messer

This show was absolutely brutal. It felt like a complete set up, the couples didn't even seem real, or at least were told to ham it up for the sake of the show.

The cutaways to the celebs making faces and laughing.....wow that was horrible.

The hosts laugh, as well as Seinfeld's are completely annoying.

And it was funny for him to tell his wife to "SHADDDUP". Really?? That's funny??

The dog one was so stupid that it had no business even being an argument.

The stripper pole, maybe it would be better to send her to some pole dancing "exercise" classes and then let her decide if she really hates it that much. Without that, it would be totally degrading to tell her that her husband wins when she doesn't want to do it.


March 01 2010 at 4:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I still can't believe they interrupted the Olympic ceremony to air this shit.

March 01 2010 at 1:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Bad show. This is the best the "great' Jerry Sinfield could come up with? Ths is a third rate game (?) show that i don't think the game show netwoek would show. Well we'll have one night a week where Jay will have the weak lead in to the local news like he provided to Conan.

And it looks like Jay is going right back to the same old same old.

March 01 2010 at 12:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Earnest Pettie

If the conflicts were smaller, the show would be one step away from Divorce Court.

I actually like the banter between the celebrities, but I agree that there should be more interaction with the actual husband and wife.

March 01 2010 at 12:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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