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What’s the Deal with The Marriage Ref?

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Just a quick-ish thought this Friday morning – The Marriage Ref upsets me.  I've had trouble working out exactly why it is that the show upsets me, but after some serious study of the matter I've put together some reasons.

First, the biggest problem with the series is the fact that whether the episode is good or not totally and completely depends on the celebrity panel.  A good celebrity panel makes the show truly funny.  I know, you don't think the show could ever be truly funny, but if you go back and look at the show that had Ricky Gervais, Larry David, and Madonna on it, you will see funny.  If you look at either of the episodes that has Alec Baldwin, Kelly Ripa, and Jerry Seinfeld… you won't see all that much funny.  Last night's combination of Kirstie Alley, Jimmy Fallon, and Sheryl Crow was somewhere in between.  But, how is a show expected to survive if they can't get funny people who are having a funny night on a weekly basis?  The series is so hit-and-miss due to the celebrity panel that I'm not sure what could cajole people into watching it weekly.

The Marriage Ref is at least smart enough to posit two answers to that question – Tom Papa and the couples.  Taking the latter of those answers before the former, anyone can see how foolish an answer it is.  In general what we've seen from the couples is that one member of a couple has a ridiculously dumb idea, like last night's guy who wanted to put a urinal in his guest bathroom, and the other member of the couple is sane and rational.  It's all a setup – at least one member of the couple has to be ridiculous because it makes the opportunity for jokes easier.  The problem is that even when people end up siding with the ridiculous member of the couple the reason tends to be "well, who is he [or she] hurting by doing that?"  Obviously the other member of the couple for one, and all too often good sense and reason as well.  So, "who are they hurting" is a bad answer, especially after the celebrities have just made fun of the person they are then siding with.  Watching someone else's dumb arguments isn't worth turning this show on for, it has to be the response to, and discussions about, the argument.

The other person, of course, who is discussing the argument is our ref himself, Tom Papa.  He seems like a very funny man, a man who is quite capable all on his own of making up funny things on the spot about what's taking place.  Why then is he a problem?  He's a problem because I don't for a minute believe that he's thinking up anything on the spot – everything he says when he issues his decision sounds scripted and looks as though he's reading it off a teleprompter.  I'm not saying that he didn't write it in advance, and maybe even wrote both decisions in advance and then is just reading the correct one, but his semi-humorous quips during the decision don't have the sort of spontaneous feel that they should.  Plus, why does he have to say when he introduces the couple live "let's go to the real so-and-sos in their real home?"  That makes it sound as though the taped argument we saw of the couple introducing the issue is actually a bunch of actors doing a dramatic recreation, and I certainly don't believe that's the case.  It's just a really poorly written introduction.

For such an incredibly hyped show, one that had a ton of lead time, it feels really poorly constructed – there's just so much about it that doesn't work.  We haven't even touched on the utter insanity of having Natalie Morales (or anyone) there to read inane facts that are semi-relevant to Papa and the celebrity panel.  Of all the poorly paced moments in the show, that is the worst.  Morales isn't there digging up facts on the spur of the moment for Papa, she's been given a list of facts in advance and Papa has been told what sorts of facts she has on hand, and probably even instructed that he has to go to her "x" number of times over the course of an episode.

It is just all so… disappointing.  There's really a world where this could be a funny show on a regular basis, a world where it could all work perfectly.  Right now though it just doesn't.  I'm rooting for it to work, I like Papa and a lot of the celebs they have on, I just think that some tweaks may be in order.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.
  • Greg Barbrick

    I agree Josh. The first episode I watched was with Larry David etc, and it was hilarious. But the setup nature of the show was glaringly apparent (and disappointing) even during that one.

    Like you, I have been forced to “curb my enthusiasm” for the show ever since. Here’s hoping they are able to make the necessary tweaks to make it consistently funny.

  • http://Blogcritcs.org Patty Bernier

    Last night’s episode of The Marriage Ref with Kristie Allie was disgusting! Her filthy mouth and physical actions made me sick! If she was trying to be funny, it didn’t work, it just confirms she’s a pig! Why on earth would you air that episode?? I enjoyed this show up until you let her on it — was this about her and her loud, filthy mouth or what? You should be embarrassed! I know she’s trying to restart her career but you shouldn’t of let her damage your show! I enjoy “R” rated. shows but this was prime time supposedly fun watching–WOW! Big mistake!!

  • Hilary Topper

    I agree that the panel makes a big difference. The funnier the people are on the panel, the funnier the show. However, what makes the show somewhat interesting to me are the “real life” people. When I hear some of the issues, I just shake my head. I don’t know why people want to expose themselves on television like that! How embarrassing!

  • Sami Gravano

    Absolutely agree that the panel is what ultimately makes the episodes truly funny. I’ll continue to watch, because honestly it is more entertaining than other reality programming.

  • Jordan Richardson

    Her filthy mouth and physical actions made me sick!

    Sounds like I need to look this episode up. Nothing better than a motherfucking filthy fucking mouth and fucking physical actions, for fuck’s sake.

  • Greg Barbrick

    Gosh darn it Jordan! You can just go to
    H-E-double-toothpicks!