Thanks to Larry David, Last Night's 'Marriage Ref' Was (Almost) Good
by Joel Keller, posted Mar 12th 2010 2:02PM
I don't know why I keep watching 'The Marriage Ref.' I hated the smugness and the idiocy of the premiere, and the second episode, with Tina Fey, Eva Longoria and Jerry Seinfeld passing judgment on couples' arguments, was even more painful to watch. But I wanted to watch last night's episode before I dismissed the show completely.
Why? Maybe I like rubbernecking when I see smoking wrecks like this, whether they're on the highway or on my TV. Maybe I'm a masochist. But I'd like to think that my patience with this show was due to the high-powered panel that Seinfeld had coming up for the show's third episode: none other than Ricky Gervais, Larry David and Madonna.
My patience was rewarded... somewhat. What this episode showed me was that, with the right panel, the show can be entertaining and the smugness level can be tolerable, especially if the celebrities spend as much time ripping on each other as they do the hapless couples on the show. And with the self-loathing David around, you knew that there was a pretty good shot of that happening.
One of the beautiful things about 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' is that the misogynistic, socially unforgiving, carping version of Larry David on the show is only a very slightly exaggerated version of the real thing. So, during every adjudication of a couple's argument this week, we knew that Larry wasn't making silly, forced jokes like some of the other panelists -- coughJerrycough -- had done in the first two episodes. He was just expressing his honest disgust at the various situations he was presented, at one point saying that this was "one of the most uncomfortable hours I've ever spent in my life."
Madonna held her own, especially when challenging Larry's misogyny. I still couldn't handle watching her overly-Botoxed face, but at least she didn't try to make jokes; she gave honest opinions of what was going on, even if all she said was that a certain couple's couch was ugly.
But watching her and Larry spar made for some fun moments, like when Larry thought finding for the husband whose wife is paying too much attention got a pet iguana was a "no brainer," high-fived Madonna when she agreed to the "no brainer" part, and was shocked when she agreed with the wife (he changed his vote after finding out the husband brought the iguana into the house). The more they went after each other, the less we had to hear them passing judgment on whatever couple they were talking about.
Gervais sat above the fray most of the time, observing that "this is the weirdest show I've ever been on." Yes, he expressed his opinions about the arguments, but most of the time he was more fascinated with David's misanthropy and Madonna's feistiness. At one point, he and David made a joking "deal" to make a show about "heterosexual roommates," which led me to think: which one would be Felix and which would be Oscar?
Seinfeld has been defending this show in his many, many promotional appearances by telling people that they should look at it purely as a comedy show, not a reality show or anything that takes itself seriously. Tonight was the first night where I could buy his argument, and the key is to find a set of panelists that is going to just let loose and be themselves, even if they turn on each other.
Is the editing still choppy? Yes, though the uncomfortable reaction shots of the celebs guffawing at each other and the video of the couples was reduced to a minimum. And Tom Papa is funny enough that his lines don't need to be as highly-scripted as they currently are. But, while 'The Marriage Ref' is never going to be high art, it could be a fun show if they find the right chemistry.
Then again, maybe all we need is for Jerry to stay behind the scenes. His condescending comedy persona doesn't work on this show at all.