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A “Marriage” made in hell

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With every new project he takes on, Jerry Seinfeld further demonstrates that he’s lost whatever creative touch made his eponymous sitcom so iconic. No one would think to put Seinfeld’s mediocre animated film Bee Movie or his grossly misconceived new reality/game show The Marriage Ref (NBC, Thursdays, 10 p.m.) in even remotely the same realm as the “show about nothing” that he co-created with Larry David.

The Details

The Marriage Ref
One stars

Sadder still is the way that NBC, reeling from the failure of The Jay Leno Show, seems to be relying on Ref as some sort of network savior. Aside from the unusually high caliber of its celebrity panelists, the show has the low-concept, low-rent feel of an afternoon syndicated program. Seinfeld himself isn’t even the ref of the title—that’s comedian Tom Papa, a longtime Seinfeld associate, who lobs softball jokes at the easily amused studio audience gathered to watch Papa and a panel of three celebrities (show creator Seinfeld shows up occasionally as a panelist) “debate” the merits of various trivial arguments between spouses.

Prepackaged video segments show husbands and wives disagreeing over some absurd issue, and then Papa and the assorted celebrities make a bunch of jokes about it. There’s virtually no interaction between the panelists (in a TV studio) and the subjects (at their homes) until Papa offers up his arbitrary, nonbinding “call,” declaring one spouse the winner of the argument. It’s completely meaningless and unhelpful, and serves mainly to put a capper on the mockery of these random people who’ve volunteered to be made fun of on national TV.

Maybe this idea would have been somewhat tolerable as a People’s Court-style show featuring Papa actually talking directly to the couples about their problems. But from its clumsy execution to its bland humor to its casual cruelty, The Marriage Ref is a complete mess.

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