Monday, March 1, 2010

The Marriage Ref: "Pilot"

An ill-conceived, poorly-executed disaster any way you look at it, NBC's sorry attempt at a post-Tonight Show-fiasco tent pole The Marriage Ref is exactly the kind of programming that gives "Reality TV" a bad name.

Divided into two segments, the pilot episode presents a pair of ridiculous, made-for-Prime-Time marital spats for the judgment of a self-worshiping "celebrity" panel.

First up is Danielle Ridolfi, whose husband Kevin reacts to the death of his 14-year-old Boston Terrier by having the animal stuffed and mounted. This might actually be an interesting conflict if the producers dug into the trauma of loss, but instead they cut together creepy shots of the "sleeping" animal with a lot of hamming from Danielle, who never liked the dog anyway. Following the Ridolfis are Greg and Dianah Hunter, who argue over whether or not Greg should install a stripper pole in the bedroom so he can encourage Dianah to give him a private show.

Both couples act out their tiffs in front of the cameras, but as they are clearly being filmed single-camera and in glorious HD, their rejoinders come off as (obviously) false and staged. In addition, the disagreements chosen for this pilot are supremely weird and creepy, produced for an easy siding-with-the-wife in both cases. Wouldn't this format work better as a stage for debate and empathy? The show will live and die by its audience's understanding of both sides of an argument. Nobody needs a Marriage Ref to tell you that if Dianah doesn't want to dance on a stripper pole for her husband, she's not going to and shouldn't be expected to. Kelly Ripa, believe it or not, makes the one trenchant observation of the whole half-hour in pointing out that Greg might be trying in earnest to spice up their sex life, but this gets tossed out rather than considered or explored.

The panel here is made up of Alec Baldwin, Kelly Ripa and Jerry Seinfeld, exposing finally just how much of the genius behind Seinfeld must be attributable to Larry David if this is the best he could come up with after more than ten years' vacation from the network. The meat of the show is dedicated to the threesome exchanging pre-scripted one-liners with emcee/referee/charisma vacuum Tom Papa and laughing at each others' terrible jokes.

You know you're in trouble when a full minute of the pilot's slim twenty-five is dedicated to replaying 'favorite' lines from the couples' arguments, on top of the quotations already recited by the anxious panel.

If memory serves, this scheme was presented with a more successfully prurient dedication on MTV's The Blame Game in the late '90s. That show put warring exes on opposite sides of a judge and let the studio audience "Jury of Your Peers" vote for who was responsible for the relationship's dissolve. The court-of-law format, complete with "lawyers" defending each sides' case, was both more entertaining and actually made or a more intelligent, right-vs-wrong debate on the issues presented. The Marriage Ref's lazy premise, with a lazy baseball-game animated opening and a lazy Marv Albert as the announcer, feels undercooked, underdeveloped and desperate. Unfunny, uninteresting and more apathetic than pathetic, I don't see this one lasting into next season.


  1. Every time I turned on the Olympics I saw an ad for this show. It looks/sounds appalling. When will people stop seeking fame through these sort of outlets?

  2. When will people stop seeking fame through these outlets? When they stop reeling from their premature departure from sitcom sainthood and the resulting career doldrums.