TV Review: NBC’s ‘The Marriage Ref’

03.01.10 8 years ago 4 Comments


After plodding through the 30 minute preview of “The Marriage Ref” on Sunday (Feb. 28) night, will I be tuning in again on Thursday to inflict a full hour upon myself?
I believe I’m going to steal the words of Danielle, the wife whose hubby wanted to give a place of honor to the stuffed corpse of his beloved dog Fonzie:
“I really… I really… I really… I really… I… I can’t… I can’t… I can’t… I can’t… I cannot. I cannot. Cannot. Have this in my house. Oh my God. I can’t. Oh.”
Lest one think that “The Marriage Ref” is the worst thing NBC has aired in the 10 p.m. hour this season, it is not. However, there wasn’t a single second of the half-hour of forced mirth that gave me any desire to return for future enlightenment.
[A wee bit more thought on “The Marriage Ref” after the break…]
I take that last bit back. The opening credits for “The Marriage Ref” are cute. I don’t need to see them again, but they were cute. They also feature executive producer Jerry Seinfeld and Tom Papa, the Marriage Ref himself, in an animated baseball scene. Even though “refs” in baseball are actually umpires. 
So “The Marriage Ref” is really more like “The Marriage Umpire,” except that neither umpires in baseball, nor refs in football or basketball are subject to review or the whims of a panel of their peers. So actually, “The Marriage Ref” is more like “The Marriage Judge” or possibly “The Marriage Tribunal” or “Marriage: The War Crimes Court.” But the minute you start quibbling about the semantics here, you’re probably missing out on the bigger picture.
In “The Marriage Ref,” Tom Papa has inexplicably been selected to pass judgment over the marital discord of “real couples in the middle of real life arguments.” [I like to think of it as Papa’s revenge for the way NBC passed judgement on his sitcom “Come to Papa,” which sat on the shelf for a year, was finally dumped in June and was cancelled after four episodes.]
“[W]e’re going to give them the one thing they’ve always wanted…” Papa teases.
Oooh! Oooh! Oooh! To be mocked and derided by an assortment of Hollywood heavyweights with no credibility at all when it comes to maintaining and cultivating a healthy marriage?
Bing! Circle gets the square!
Actually, the real answer is “a winner.” And although the couple was on tape explaining their specific problem, wisdom can only be imparted after passing through the prism of three celebrity busybodies. 
Busybodying in the preview were Kelly Ripa, Alec Baldwin and Seinfeld himself. I could be lazy and make jokes about Alec Baldwin giving marriage counseling, but what’s the point? Alec Baldwin is a funny man. 
And you know how I know that Alec Baldwin is a funny man? Because every word out of his mouth brought snorting laughter from Papa and Seinfeld and squeals from Ripa. Since the personalities on stage were equipped with mics and since the show’s post-production staff lacked the resources or desire, nobody bothered to tinker with the sound mix and the result was finally 22 minutes of listening to a quartet of comics laugh at each other. [Not “with each other,” because in that situation, the audience might also have been invited to laugh. Instead, I found the rough audio and obnoxious guffawing close-ups to be alienating and exclusionary, to reinforce exactly how much the stars of the show were lampooning the couples in need of help.]
In the premiere, we got two cases: In one, Danielle and Kevin bickered over the stuffed mutt. In the second, Greg and Dianah brawled over the whether or not it would be appropriate to have a stripper poll in the bedroom. In both cases, the panelists strained for punchlines, occasionally hitting (Baldwin, mostly) and mostly missing (Seinfeld) and couldn’t muster advice more profound than “marriage is compromise.” If there is a single estranged couple in America that needed a Hollywood celebrity to teach that lesson, I feel sorry for us all.
Is the rationale of “The Marriage Ref” that thanks to the Internet and Tabloid Culture, ordinary Americans spend their lives chortling at the foibles of the celebrity elite? So this is finally the show to turn the tables? Regular couples are made to look like buffoons by the very icons they’ve called buffoons themselves? And for their troubles, they get a sponsored prize? 
Spare me. 
Looking at the teases for upcoming episodes of “The Marriage Ref,” the guests include some of the funniest people working today, people clever enough that, almost by accident, they’re bound to deliver an actual chuckle or two to future episodes. And I’ll just have to wait for Larry David, Ricky Gervais and Sarah Silverman to make their funnies elsewhere. 
NBC used “The Marriage Ref” as a bridge on Sunday night, a teetering suspension platform meant to remind viewers of how much fun they’ve had watching NBC at 10 p.m. over the past two weeks. The show finds NBC pillaging its past (Seinfeld), its present (Baldwin), its news and daytime divisions (Natalie Morales lowering her credibility and adding nothing as a research assistant) and its sports division (Marv Albert, also adding nothing, though lacking the credibility to lower). It’s NBC using all of the resources at its disposal to fill time until a busy development season has restocked the pantries.
In the short term? I leave you, again, with the words of Danielle:
“I really… I really… I really… I really… I… I can’t… I can’t… I can’t… I can’t… I cannot. I cannot. Cannot. Have this in my house. Oh my God. I can’t. Oh.”
“The Marriage Ref” has its actual premiere on NBC at 10 p.m. on Thursday night. This reviewer has seen enough.

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