A review of the heinous, Jerry Seinfeld-produced "The Marriage Ref" coming up just as soon as you laugh hysterically at all my jokes...
When no "Marriage Ref" review screeners were sent out, I assumed it was NBC being high-handed, as the network tends to be even though it's been doing so poorly for so long. We're premiering this show after the Olympics! We don't need reviews! And while I'm sure that was a part of their thinking, seeing the final product revealed an equally obvious motivation: We are gonna get killed by the critics when they see this fiasco.
Now, I'm not pretending that TV critics have the power to make or break a network show anymore. With the Olympics as a lead-in last night and "The Office" birth episode as a lead-in on Thursday, "The Marriage Ref" should do okay for a while. But good lord was it excruciating to sit through: 30 minutes (imagine how bad it'll be at its usual one-hour running time) of celebrities being smug, mocking ordinary couples with arguments so obviously ridiculous and one-sided that they would seem justified picking on the wrong side, and cackling at each other's lame punchlines as if they were all attending the Friar's Club Roast where Jeff Ross made his legendary Bea Arthur joke. Painful, pointless, obnoxious... I would almost rather have "The Jay Leno Show" back.
It was really interesting watching Seinfeld on "Curb Your Enthusiasm" this year, where he played himself as Larry David's ideological twin, equal in their feelings of superiority to the rest of humanity, but with Jerry having managed to pretend to conform to society's laws. (He did it in part by using Larry as a tool to get out his most evil impulses.) But where "Curb" builds its humor out of Larry constantly failing whenever he tries to prove this superiority (making the joke be on him, and not the world), and where "Seinfeld" managed to make Jerry's smugness work because it was in reaction to a fictional, cartoonish universe, the more we see of Jerry out in the real world, the more irritating he becomes. It should be impossible to make me feel bad for Larry King, but Jerry somehow managed to come across as the bad guy while pointing out how unprepared and oblivious King is.
Not only was "The Marriage Ref" not nearly funny enough to justify the constant chortling from the celebrity panelists, host Tom Papa and the studio audience (though I will acknowledge that jokes always seem much funnier in person than they do on TV), but there was this undercurrent of contempt for the couples being judged that made the whole affair feel particularly unpleasant.
I think Seinfeld is a tremendous comedian, and still consider "Seinfeld" one of the greatest sitcoms ever. Alec Baldwin is an incredibly funny man, if also a complete lunatic. Some of the panelists shown in the clips from upcoming episodes (Larry David, Ricky Gervais, Sarah Silverman) are so innately funny that I'd almost be tempted to check out their episodes if I hadn't just sat through this ugly, unfunny, patronizing mess.
What did everybody else think?