Trying to make sense out of “The Marriage Ref”

A very strange thing happened on Sunday night. Jerry Seinfeld introduced a new show on NBC and virtually nobody seemed to like it!

Wait. That's not strange. That happened before, when The Seinfeld Chronicles pilot appeared many summers ago, only to blossom into Seinfeld in the 1990s and make everyone think he invented the sitcom.

But what about this "hybrid" of a show called The Marriage Ref? NBC short-circuited its coverage of the closing ceremonies for the Winter Olympics in Vancouver just to make sure we saw a half-hour preview of the series as scheduled at 10:30 p.m. Eastern/Pacific. And roughly 14.5 million people kept the channel on for the half-hour, which is a healthy amount of viewers these days, until you realize that even more people watched CBS at the same time to watch the boss of White Castle ruin his buns. That literally happened. More amazing was the instantly critical reaction to The Marriage Ref, as chronicled by Brian Stelter of the New York Times into insta-bad-buzz, and then today we've already got my former colleague David Hinckley at the New York Daily News trying to fix the show before its proper debut on Thursday. Can it be saved? Does it even need to be saved already?

What I do know is this: Of the 607 people I follow currently on Twitter, only one person had anything nice to say about the premiere episode. That was Dylan Gadino, who runs Punchline Magazine. Ahem. Let me just say this in his defense: Gadino is married. Many of the people who I saw hating the show are single. I am divorced. Please get your laughter out now before I resume.

OK. Ready to continue? Good. Remember earlier how I showed you some behind-the-scenes previews and meetings about the show? My sense all along is that Seinfeld took this basic premise — married couples are insane, and there are many millions of them who sit at home at night watching TV, who would undoubtedly relate to more insane married couples getting mocked about their insanity — and ran with it. That said, some things about the premiere were downright embarrassing and absurd. One of those things is not the inclusion of divorced celebrities. As a divorcee myself, I can see how anyone who has failed at marriage would feel even freer about weighing in on a couple's dispute — and Alec Baldwin proved this with some great wit on Sunday. But. The animated introduction was unnecessary, indulgent and just plain wrong (as others have mentioned already, baseball doesn't even have refs, and nice limo!). Bringing in Natalie Morales from NBC "News" with the "facts" is supposed to lend credibility, but does the exact opposite. And having Marv Albert recap what we already saw three times in 20 minutes, considering it's Marv Albert of all relationship experts, is beyond dumb. As for letting celebrities mock regular people, well, sure that seems too smug, and maybe if you had the real couples in the studio for more interaction or introduced celebrity couple spats, it'd be more compelling. Tom Papa seemed perfectly fine as the host, although the series and network could have, would have, should have properly introduced him to the viewers and given him more to do and say. Maybe have him tell us the facts instead of Morales. I don't know. NBC and the producers were so set upon telling us this was the return of Seinfeld that everything else seemed like an afterthought. Which is likely why the debut made such a bad impression.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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One thought on “Trying to make sense out of “The Marriage Ref”

  1. I’m 20 years old, single and dont have kids, but I still love and adore Louis CK. His jokes are about being married and having kids.
    Oh also, they’re intelligent and funny. Unlike the Marriage Ref.

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