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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

NBC makes bad call with ‘Marriage Ref’

Published: March 5, 2010
Section: Features

There are many things on which I would defer to Jerry Seinfeld.  Comedy and how to make millions, for example, are things on which Seinfeld has an authority. Marriage advice, however, is not one of them.

Unfortunately, NBC disagrees and this week premiered “The Marriage Ref,” a show in which a star-studded celebrity panel (which includes Seinfeld) issues rulings on trivial marital disputes.

Despite the channel’s best efforts, all the star-power in the world may not be able to save the Seinfeld-produced show.

Though the show’s concept is interesting, the execution falls flat. The preview episode, which debuted after the closing ceremony of the Vancouver Olympics, reveals the show is no more than a poorly executed mix of elements from past successful TV shows: celebrities, quirky dilemmas and some humor.

The first episode features Jerry Seinfeld, Kelly Ripa and Alec Baldwin on the celebrity panel. The celebrity panel aspect of it is an intriguing draw, but the odd selection of celebrities (who do not have any chemistry with each other) leads to some awkward pauses and multiple one-liners that fall flat with no partner to back them up. The celebrities seem to realize they are only figureheads on the panel and focus more on fulfilling the stereotype of their celebrity persona than actually providing a unique and entertaining insight.

Serving as the actual “Marriage Ref” is Tom Papa, a stand-up comedian who has had a couple of bit roles in film and television here and there. Papa has trouble coping with the fact that he is no longer the funniest guy in the room. He ineptly inserts jokes that run on too long and disrupt the flow of the show. If he’s to succeed as a TV show host, he has to learn how to pull off the zippy one-liners needed to transition between segments and to stay quiet for the rest.

The most interesting part of the show is the actual disputing couples who amuse viewers with their zany arguments. Kevin and Danielle are the first couple to be judged regarding their dispute over whether Kevin should be able to erect a shrine to his dead dog, the Fonz, complete with the Fonz’s stuffed body. After some witty banter between the panel and Tom’s contention that the dog will just end up in the “attic of broken dreams,” a collection of Kevin’s failed endeavors, Tom rules in favor of Danielle. The execution of Tom’s judgment seems to be a broken dream in itself, as he communicates his ruling via videoconference, giving an anticlimactic end to the debate.

Even though the show covers another couple’s dispute as well, the viewer can’t help but be bored with the generic witticisms about marriage and marital compromise that populate the show. Hopefully NBC doesn’t plan on applying the “’til death do us part” clause to “The Marriage Ref.”

“The Marriage Ref” airs Thursday nights at 10 p.m. EST.