What NBC’s The Marriage Ref got right and wrong in rebooting for season two

NBC brought back The Marriage Ref for a second season, which premiered last night. It’s Jerry Seinfeld’s pet project and hosted by his friend and longtime opening act, Tom Papa.

Some people think the very concept is silly, having celebrities — not particularly known for their ability to maintain their matrimonies — serve as referees for civilian couples. Especially when the marital spats may seem to be silly themselves. You could argue that most family sitcoms rely on those very premises, though. Besides, The Newlywed Game has done this for decades, just without the starpower. But the thought of becoming a star through a fight with your spouse may produce an actual split in the marriage (see these two New Yorkers from season one). So.

What did The Marriage Ref get right in returning for a second season? For one thing, they actually brought the married couples on set. Before, they were stuck at home and on tape (or closed circuit), getting mocked by celebrities without any ability to even interact with them. The show also made it clearer that all of the couples would earn a vacation, with the studio audience rewarding one couple with $25,000. They got rid of Today correspondent Natalie Morales and her recaps, as well as Marv Albert and his replay commentary. And they even let Ricky Gervais throw a joke at the show by saying he had bet he wouldn’t be on it a second time.

What did The Marriage Ref get wrong? Well, the idea of letting celebrities make fun of your marriage remains a bit of a reverse roast, even if you know you’re getting paid to be on TV for this privilege. Aren’t roasts supposed to be reserved for taking the powerful people down a notch? Also: Among next week’s celebrity panelists is Tracy Morgan. I wonder if NBC already has re-edited the tapes on that episode. Can’t wait to (not) find out!

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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