My call on ‘The Marriage Ref’ — Foul

“The Marriage Ref” is established on sporting principles (based on the lengthy animated introduction with Jerry Seinfeld). Unfortunately, the performance of this panel show that debuts tonight on NBC (KNVN 24) is more XFL than NFL.
I’ll be short because other viewers and TV critics have already eviscerated this show. One critic snarked about a future when networks could get instant feedback and cancel a show in progress.
Based on the 30-minute preview that aired Sunday, I find myself dreading an entire hour of this banality.
If the “Ref” were a pitcher, there were months of wind up (including endless commercials), but the pitch is a roller in the dirt. If the “Ref” were batter, it’s probably going to quickly strike out.
But “Ref” is neither pitcher nor batter, it’s a simple show that would be at home on basic cable if it weren’t for the celebrity friends Seinfeld has gotten to join him as panelists for the actual ref, Tom Papa.
The premise of the show is relatively straightforward — footage of a couple bickering over a meaningless trifle is shown before a panel of celebrities. The celebrities pick apart the couple’s dilemma and hopefully make a few good jokes before Papa makes the call on which spouse is right.
Humor ensues, or it’s supposed to. However, as some critics pointed out, there may be some elements of the show that might work, but the execution is wrong.
The panel of celebrities are amusing, but they definitely aren’t as funny as they think they are. Some have accused the show of elitism — where the well-to-do celebs mock people from outside New York City. I didn’t necessarily get that feeling, but there was a sense of insincerity around the endeavor.
First – When Papa brings the couple back for the verdict, he says we’re going to meet the “real” couple. But the audience already saw a realistic depiction of the dispute earlier. Does that mean that it was faked with actors? That’s pretty lame. Update: I watched a small part of Thursday’s show. Apparently the couples are real throughout the program. Papa seems to say “actual” as a verbal tick (like “It’s the ‘actual’ David Blaine.”). Still lame.
Second – While cracking wise, the panel has made some pretty valid points about the relationships — like how one silly dispute may be due to a lack of intimacy. Does this get back to the couples? Not during taping, but maybe they’ll see it when/if it airs.
The whole thing reminded me of the goofy shows that Comedy Central aired in the past two decades, like “Win Ben Stein’s Money,” “Beat the Geeks,” or “Root of All Evil.” These shows are often a string of jokes built around an extremely flimsy premise.
When they live in the fringes of cable, the shows are enough to keep people amused for 30 minutes. But mild amusement isn’t enough to sustain a show that is shoved into the relatively bright light of network primetime for an entire hour.