After viewing roughly 1.2 million promos for it during the Winter Olympics, I decided to give NBC's new prime time show The Marriage Ref a chance during last night's "special sneak preview." Sure, the promos made it look like a boring, offensive excuse to parade NBC celebrities in front of the cameras and portray marriage as a hilarious prison, but Jerry Seinfeld created it and he used to have a show that was pretty funny. Yeah. USED to.
A quick overview in case you didn't watch last night: The Marriage Ref begins with host Tom Papa introducing a married couple with a problem to panel of three celebrity judges. (The judges for last night's preview episode were Alec Baldwin, Kelly Ripa, and creator Jerry Seinfeld himself.) The host and judges are not presented as experts, which is good, because they aren't. Why have people who know what they're talking about give marital advice? Next, through video footage (they never appear onstage) the couple presents the issue they're having (last night there was one issue involving a dead dog and one involving a stripper pole). Then the celebrity judges make schlocky jokes about the uproariously funny pitfalls of domestic life, they vote as to whose side they're on, and Tom Papa announces the winner. In the spirit of the show, I am going to present a brief pros and cons list here before announcing whether or not this show is worth your time.
Side One: Watch this show.
The Marriage Ref may not be groundbreaking entertainment, but it isn't all bad either. For example, an introduction is given for each married couple during which they talk about how they met and how much they love one another, and so far the couples have appeared to be pretty happy. The prize at the end of each round is a second honeymoon vacation, and the winners seemed genuinely excited to get the chance to spend time with their respective spouse. And hey, some of the advice about keeping things in perspective during marital spats might come in handy.
As far as the celebrity judges go, upcoming appearances will be made by Tina Fey, Ricky Gervais, and other people who are funny in other contexts. Could be good, right?
Side Two: This show is a complete waste of valuable television time.
For starters, the entire point of the show is to pit spouses against one another for cheap laughs (well, that and to gain prime time visibility for NBC "celebrities" like convicted sex offender Marv Albert, who should probably not be giving marital advice). Though many of the jokes last night were unoffensive at best, the most energetic moments throughout the episode came when the husband and wife dissed one another in front of the (super annoying) live studio audience. Hilarity did not ensue.
Also, it's a little early to tell, but the sneak preview episode tells me that The Marriage Ref is – dare I say? – a tad sexist. In both of the disputes presented last night, the husband wanted to do something that he had always dreamed of (stuffing a beloved dog and installing a stripper pole in the bedroom, respectively). Guess who won't let him realize his secret dream? His big bad wife, of course! Though both "calls" made by Tom Papa at the end of each argument went to the wife, it seemed almost as if the host and judges sided with her out of fear of her potential wrath. The mood was of the, "Hey dude, bros before hos and everything, but I don't want to deal with your wife's bullshit so I'm voting for her" ilk. Not really a potential feminist favorite.
To add to the "women are so unreasonable" tone, at two points during the 30-minute episode, host Tom Papa stopped the proceedings to show video clips of each respective wife reacting to her husband. The more outrageous, the better. Aren't wives THE WORST? (Husbands aren't much better.)
NOT WORTH YOUR TIME. Though offensive at times, the real reason to skip The Marriage Ref is how tired and boring it is. We've been hearing jokes at marriage's expense since the beginning of time, and the take-my-wife-please! punchlines aren't getting any fresher. This is lazy television that uses celebrities and formulaic, sexist jabs in a sorry attempt for ratings, and unless you're practicing for an eyeroll competition you're much better off just revisiting that Seinfeld DVD box set than giving Jerry Seinfeld's current efforts any attention.
At the end of each episode, Tom Papa tells us that marriage is "worth fighting for." That may be true of actual marriage, but it certainly isn't true of The Marriage Ref.