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Thanks to Larry David, Last Night's 'Marriage Ref' Was (Almost) Good

by Joel Keller, posted Mar 12th 2010 2:02PM
Larry David, Madonna, and Ricky Gervais on 'The Marriage Ref'
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.

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I saw the premier and wrote the show off as just dumb. But I'll have to watch LD go at it with Madge on Hulu. You're right about Seinfeld. He belongs off stage.
So far Seinfeld is only bearable in reruns. Even that appearance on CYE stunk.

March 13 2010 at 7:28 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Larry David is a misogynist? I must be watching a different show. I think of misogyny as something like desperate housewives or two and a half men. Shrug.

March 12 2010 at 10:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Best marriage Ref yet! Larry David and Ricky Gervais were hysterical and Madonna came across as surprisingly somewhat normal.
Too bad this panel can't always be the panel of advisors but it was an enjoyable show!

March 12 2010 at 9:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
not getting it

Just a weird show - botoxed and made up entertainers under studio lights watch in horror as middle class americans go about their lives, then make jokes about it. Granted, I only saw a few minutes, but that was my impression. I find Larry David funny, granted, but this setting is creepy.

March 12 2010 at 5:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Nancy Martin

I thought last night's episode was great. While I loved Larry David (who doesn't) and Ricky Gervais, I thought Madonna was the stand out....she was hysterical. What this show needs is to lose Papa and have Jerry be the ref. Also lose the statistics computer person as it is so unnecessary. And thank goodness Marv Albert wasn't back. When I saw him on the other episodes, all I could remember was him in women's lingerie when his cross dressing trangressions came to the forefront a few years ago. ICK!!!

March 12 2010 at 5:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I agree with this article - I love Larry David, and am finding he is a love or hate kind of guy, but most people love him. I tried to watch this show the first 2 times, and was left feeling uncomfortable and turned it off. When I saw Larry David and Madonna were on the panel, I had to see how this would play out. I don't even really care about the stupid couples and their problems, it's the celebrity banter that makes this show watchable. Larry is a strong-minded man without a filter on his mouth, and Madonna is twice as much woman. Together, they were such a great pairing, even if they don't like each other. And Gervais was pretty hilarious himself - the perfect third member of the panel. I think you need the right group to get this show to work, and just because you are a celebrity doesn't make you an entertaining panel member for an hour long comedy show. Larry David was an obvious and perfect choice, and I can only hope he comes back. Madonna was just a lot of fun to watch, because you know she wouldn't put up with Larry making any crazy comments. I just had to say I was telling people not to watch this show, even though I LOVE Jerry Seinfeld, but last night's panel changed my mind. I'm waiting to see who is on next, and hope there is someone unfiltered like Larry, strong-minded and intelligent like Madonna, and a token funny man to throw in a comment that can tie up any awkward pauses along the way. Great panel.

March 12 2010 at 4:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I had the exact opposite response to last night's episode. While I've never found The Marriage Ref to be excellent television by any definition it has, for the most part, been amusing. Larry David's performance, however, was so incredibly unappealing and skin-crawling that I struggled to finish the episode at all. I can't claim to have much knowledge of David's career before last night (I know he did Curb You Enthusiasm (which I haven't seen) and was involved in Seinfeld (which I hated)) but I can say, now, that I hope never to be exposed to more of his creepy, slimy, hate-filled humor.

March 12 2010 at 4:20 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

I almost thought about watching last night's episode because Ricky Gervais was on, but even he couldn't overcome how repellent I find both the concept and Larry David.

Glad you liked it, but it's just not my cuppa.

March 12 2010 at 3:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I don't like the host or the ridiculous "fact-check girl," but I think the premise is sound, and the celebs have been pretty hilarious. (Eva Longoria has a sense of humor--who knew?)

March 12 2010 at 3:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Larry David was so fantastic last night. It reminds me of just how much I miss Curb Your Enthusiasm!

March 12 2010 at 3:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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