Like it or not (not!), we live in a world over-saturated by reality television. In that respect, NBC’s heavily hyped, Jerry Seinfeld-produced reality show “The Marriage Ref” is hardly the worst thing on television. But let’s not kid ourselves. It’s still crap.
Maybe we should cut Seinfeld a little slack. He gave us “Seinfeld,” one of the most loved sitcoms in TV history. It’s not like he owes us any more entertainment. It’s not shocking that he’s spend the last 12 years resting on his laurels (not to mention his fat wallet). It’s not even unusual that his first foray back into prime time television would be a derivative reality show on which he isn’t required to appear. But even by those lax standards, “The Marriage Ref” is on mighty rocky ground.
The show’s setup is tolerable enough: Choose some squabbling spouses, get some celebrity guests to watch videos of the contentious couple, trade a few improv quips, then render judgment on whether hubby or wife is the “winner” in this particular fight. Sure, the conflicts are appropriately wacky: Hubby wants to put a stripper pole in the bedroom, wife pampers pet iguana—that kinda stuff. The guest judges are an appropriately odd mix: Madonna, Larry David and Ricky Gervais, or Jimmy Fallon, Kirstie Alley and Sheryl Crow. But the show’s production is painfully slack. It’s like no one—from producers to guests—gives the slightest damn.
Host Tom Papa (star of the excruciatingly unfunny and mercifully short-lived sitcom “Come to Papa”) is about as funny as a rubber crutch. His sole purpose is to remind us that fellow standup comic Jerry Seinfeld came up with this show but was too lazy to host it himself. The video clips of squabbling couples are ridiculously short and edited in a way that makes the men and women all look like crazy idiots. The weekly celebrity “fact checker” is just plain stupid. (Tell us, Maria Menounos, what is dust composed of?) The guest “judges” don’t look like they’re buying the show’s slapdash premise for a minute. Gervais, David and Madonna spent most of their episode wondering what the hell was going on. “What is the point of the whole thing?” kvetched David. “Why are we on television?’ asked Madge.
Many celebrity guests blow off the whole idea of “judging” the conflicts altogether. Their decisions mean nothing, the winners get nothing: What’s the point? The point is to create yet another video clip show (à la: “I Love the 80s,” “Best Week Ever,” “Smoking Gun Presents: World’s Dumbest”) in which you hire a bunch of semi-celebs to make snarky comments over random videos. Sure, occasionally, Danny Bonaduce gets in a good dig about some drunk dude on a police car dash-cam. But most of the B-plus-list celebrities on “The Marriage Ref” seem to know they’re slumming. When the quips are flowing, the show has a shaggy, “nothing else is on anyway” charm. When they aren’t, it’s like watching reruns of “The Jay Leno Show.”