'The Marriage Ref' review: 'I'm ready to make the call': Funny or not?

I admit I came to The Marriage Ref, after seeing the commercials, kind of dreading it, thinking it was going to be a pre-fabricated affair, with funny lines fed to the celebrity judges by show creator Jerry Seinfeld and his staff. For all I know, that may be the case, but there was an undeniable spontaneity not only among the premiere’s guest judges — Alec Baldwin, Kelly Ripa, and Seinfeld — but also during the taped segments featuring the couples who provided the arguments. Granted, my defenses were weakened by the mind-blowing Olympics finale that included William Shatner spouting Dadaist poetry, but I thought The Marriage Ref was silly fun.

Hosted by Tom Papa, an excellent stand-up comic (he killed on a recent David Letterman), The Marriage Ref is just what you’ve seen in the ads. We and the judges watched tape of a couple’s outlandish argument, and Papa referees the dispute by concluding, “I’m ready to make the call!”

The two spats this week were about a husband who wanted to keep his dead stuffed dog around the house, and another husband who wanted to install a stripper pole in his house. In both cases, the wife was the voice of vehement common sense. There wasn’t much tension over which way Papa would go in his decisions, but then, that’s not the point of the show.

The Marriage Ref exists to permit the celebrity judges to comment amusingly on the cases to be adjudicated. Baldwin and Ripa seemed to be having fun winging the zingers; if anything, they made Seinfeld’s comments seem mild. I can’t say as I laughed out loud, but the half-hour — a showcase for the hour-long edition slated to debut on NBC this Thursday at 10 p.m. — moved along briskly.

Natalie Morales, usually employed as an NBC news correspondent, was used here to offer “Just The Facts” about the subjects under discussion. Far from being dismayed that a TV-news person would agree to sit onstage trolling Google for factoids about how using a stripper pole “burns 250 calories an hour,” I applaud Morales for showing both a sense of humor and the simple truth about TV-news readers — i.e., these people aren’t exactly investigative journalists.

The future of The Marriage Ref? I wonder if it can sustain its joking for a full hour come Thursday night. But I’m also curious to see the edition that has Madonna and Larry David yelling maniacally. Taken on its own terms, as non-scripted entertainment, Ref is at the very least more fun than American Idol is these days.

What did you think?

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Comments (281 total) Add your comment
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  • darclyte

    It won’t last. (1) It might work better if they focused on one family and settled multiple arguments as opposed to multiple families and one argument each. (2) It’s not that funny. (3) It’s on NBC.

    • Nshi

      Please remove your racist comment.

      • Wilson


      • Debbie

        There was nothing racist about darclyte’s comment. Unless you count NBC as a race.

      • Disgusted by Nshi & his posts

        Nshi is an idiot. He obviously cannot read. Try hooked on phonics dimwit……

      • Raynscloud

        I think Nshi thinks ‘multiple’ is a racist word. :p

      • The Original Nshi

        Give it a rest you IMPOSTOR!!!!

    • Charles

      Wow, it’s sooo retarded NBC is blamed for everything.

      • musicloversmatch

        I want to date a teenager like Jerry

      • Nshi

        You sir are a racist!

  • Ed

    I thought it was horrible. I didn’t laugh once. It was one of the things where it was obvious that the host and celebrities judges were having fun, but that fun did not translate to me, the viewer. I will not be watching again.

    • Ed

      celebrities = celebrity. sorry.

    • KWise

      I agree Ed – it was clear the host and celebs were having a lot of fun. It seemed very genuine on their part. Nonetheless, it didn’t transfer to me either. I might give it another shot though.

    • Nshi

      Obvious racist comment here!

    • bigal

      Worse piece of junk I have ever seen. The only people that were laughing were the people on the show laughing at each other with Tom Papa laughing in the background. Downright stupid idea and execution.

  • mjh

    It was probably the worst show I have ever seen. And to interrupt the closing ceremonies for that garbage….

    • Bobby’s Robot

      agreed. another asinine move by NBC.

    • Wilson

      That’s exactly what I thought. I got so pissed that they stopped coverage for a 30-minute crap program that I just turned off the tv until they played the ceremony later…That completely killed my faith in NBC, and I won’t be watching anything on it anymore.

      • @wilson

        Who has faith in a tv network? Talk about melodramatic.

    • Nshi

      You just hate black people!!

      • Yep

        And the issue is . . . ?

  • rachel

    I thought it was great! The Olympics closing ceremony were a disppointment, & the show isn’t supposed be a long running show anyway? So GOO! JERRY!

    • T

      On one part of your critique, we all agree. It was indeed “so goo”, the type of goo you get stuck on your hands and you can’t get off no matter how you try. Sums up the unclean feeling I have about this NBC show.

      • Maureen

        Haha!! XD

      • Nshi

        Learn to spell.

    • KNeff

      I agree! We needed the interruption from the closing ceremonies…ugh!
      I thought it was funny. I’m not quite sure what folks thought they were tuning in to see?
      Dr. Phil? Dr. Drew?

      It IS Jerry Seinfeld we’re talking about here…gave it one thumbs up and will watch again on Thursday.

    • Preston

      I thought that the Olympics closing ceremony would last until midnight–you know how they go on and on–but NBC breaks tradition by showing Marriage Ref. It’s a good idea, but don’t we see this kind of stuff on daytime shows of Oprah Winfrey or Dr. Phil? It would be better off in daytime and not the primetime slot.

    • WiseOne

      You didn’t see the Closing Ceremonies, you saw a bit of it, NBC pulled out long before it was over and it just got better!

  • Leslie

    It was really boring. Can’t believe it’s going to be
    an hour show. And the Olympics was interrupted for
    this? Shame on NBC.

    • Jane

      It’s NBC. They’ve lowered the standards for expectations a long, long time ago.

      • Elizabeth


      • David

        Big Bang Theory. Now that’s a funny show.

        It felt like watching behind the scenes footage of an “Ocean’s” movie. Celebrities having a jolly old time with other celebrities.

      • anonymous

        Oddly, I like some of their shows – Chuck, Community – but as a network, they suck BIG time.

      • Nshi


    • Gus van Rant

      Both this show and the closing ceremonies were pathetic. Double fail for the night!

  • knittress

    Pitiful. Just pitiful. Seinfeld should get his SAG card taken after that phony guffaw after every lame joke.

    • terryt

      I love Jerry, but totally agree with you. This show was horrible. The laughter was forced, the situations stupid. Come on, Jerry, you can do better.

    • Jammy

      I really liked the commercials for this and thought it was going to be really funny..however .. whats the word I’m looking for? out of touch ? Just doesn’t really work in this economy..in the ’90’s or pre 9/11 – yea no problem – but these days when couple are facing real issues of unemployment and budget crisis – this eem to feel too much like “my husband lights his cigars with 20 dollar bills when I think he should use 10 dollar bills ” just too trivial of issues ..and not to mention Alec Baldwin ?! really?! giving marital advice ?!

      • Jammy

        someone edited out my s ..really?!

        I really liked the commercials for this and thought it was going to be really funny..however .. whats the word I’m looking for? out of touch ? Just doesn’t really work in this economy..in the ’90’s or pre 9/11 – yea no problem – but these days when couple are facing real issues of unemployment and budget crisis – this seemed to feel too much like “my husband lights his cigars with 20 dollar bills when I think he should use 10 dollar bills ” just too trivial of issues ..and not to mention Alec Baldwin ?! really?! giving marital advice ?!

    • mostboringseasonever

      It was so obvious that he and Kelly were trying to force the laughs. The show only got picked up because of Seinfeld. It’s probably the worst show I’ve ever seen. Mr. Tucker, I can’t believe you liked it.

      • Alienate

        Tucker liked it = CRAP!
        Tucker no like = GOOD!

  • wm

    i guess i’m out of the loop because this was the funniest show i’ve seen in a LONG time. better than a lot of SNL. The celebrities were OK, but the couples were sooo good – funny as s.

    • Gus van Rant

      You probably think Cop Out is funny too.

      • dh

        Insulting someone’s taste because they disagree with you is such a valid argument. Why don’t you put your tastes on the line and give an example of what you think is a good comedy?

      • Jennifer

        You probably think “Gus van Rant” is funny. Not everyone has the same taste.

      • Myke25

        Actually, I DID think Cop Out was pretty funny…if you didn’t expect too much.
        And The Marriage Ref didn’t suck. It felt like a throwback to the old panel show with a bit of a reality show twist.

      • @dh

        ‘You probably think Cop Out is funny too.’ This is an insult? Lmfao

    • jared4ever

      Better than SNL. lol shoot for the stars huh?

    • LOL

      “According to Jim” is probably more your speed.

      • Roy

        Hey, “According to Jim” is funny – no, Leno is probably more their speed…

    • Tommy Marx

      I thought this was tediously bad, but I agree with dh – just because I think something’s horrible doesn’t mean everyone else should. Egotistical much?

    • Nshi

      That’s right you aren’t a racist!

  • T

    Not, with a capital “OMG, WTF, NBC?”

    • Nshi

      WTF is racist slang!!

  • Jim T

    I don’t think Ken Tucker watched the same show as the rest of the country did. Awful…just awful.

    • levelheaded

      I have come to realize that if Ken Tucker hates it, I’ll like it and if he likes it, I’ll hate it. And if he’s “M’eh” about it, I’ll be too.

      That’s true with all critics, you just find out the pattern of their opinions vs your own and then you can decide.

      So, I guess I won’t be watching this show. lol :-)

    • J

      NBC advertises on ew.com. Ken Tucker is not going to take their shows to task no matter how poor they are. Just look at how he keeps justifying and defending SNL skits this season.

    • Jan

      NBC advertises on ew.com. Ken Tucker is not going to give an appropriate critique no matter how poor the program may be. Just look at how he continues to defend the numerous horrific skits that SNL has presented this year.

  • Sharon

    We thought it was nice light fun. I’m glad the couples so far are likable people who have genuine affection for each other instead of more serious debates like having more children or fighting over money. The tone is just right

    • thin

      I thought it was fun, too. I enjoyed what I saw and will probably watch more of it if its regular time slot doesn’t conflict with better shows.

    • Nshi

      Talking about skin tone? You are a definite racist!

  • The Great Unwashed

    I thought in was a brisk, amusing half hour.If it replaced that dreadful Jenna Elfman sitcom on Thursday night I would probably watch it, but not for an hour at 9:00pm.Incidently, the crassness and stupidity of NBC executives kinda taints my enjoyment of everything on the network.

    • Terry

      Elfman’s show is on mondays on cbs(though I guess it just got moved, it took Jenna to make me look forward to rules of attraction. You’re right though, it is dreadful.

  • Jon

    It was horrible. Baldwin and Ripa were having fun, but it was just never funny. Everyone involved looked like they were trying way too hard to make you think you were watching something hilarious. That phony big smile on Seinfeld’s face looked painful. Plus the “cases” between the couples were stupid in an annoying way. The stripper pole one especially. I think this show could be funny based on who the celebrity guests are (I’m curious to see Larry David and Madonna too), but this little preview episode did nothing to inspire confidence.

  • Chris Smith

    Ken Tucker I usually agree with your television reviews..until now! The Marriage Ref was one of the worst shows ever! When are people going to understand that there is NOTHING real about reality TV? Pathetic! Now Jerry Seinfeld from one of TV’s greatest sitcoms produces a reality show… just really, really sad.

    • Terry

      And it’s kind of a steal, there’s a show on satellite called the supreme court of comedy where a couple of stand ups act as lawyers totry cases before Dom Irrera. It has been hit and miss, but sometimes is really funny, and tom Papa was on recently.

      • Donna Fischel-Hart

        There’s a much funnier married couple on StephanieAndGregShow.com

      • Nshi

        Racism is dripping from your post!!

  • Ariay

    I guess I missed something because I was LOL especially with couple #2…will be watching on Thursday.

  • Lauren

    My husband and I enjoyed it. Maybe it was newlywed bliss, giggling about marital spats we haven’t gotten to yet? Kelly Rippa was surprisingly amusing. Seinfeld seemed to sit back and watch his show unfold; I’m glad he didn’t take over the spotlight. Like Ken said, silly and fun.

    • Roma

      I liked Kelly Ripa, too, and thought the show was OK. One of my issues with the show was the feeling that it was, in a way, scripted, because how could she be having a genuine reaction in the shop getting the stuffed dog if they weren’t already having the issue and on the show?

      • comic relief

        This was hilarity to me! It’s the same as that hotline you can call where the people get the answers for you to all sorts of random trivia to settle bar bets, except its funny. And I don’t know what kind of sense of humor it is that show appeals to, but whatever it’s called must be my kind because I laughed most of the time, even at some of Papa’s obviously scripted jokes (and I didn’t like his monologue at the start but I’m glad I didn’t turn it off then). I think the couples have submitted tapes of their arguments, like America’s Funniest Home Videos, and then producers chose which couples would be featured to have their arguments settled. Yeah there are more serious things that couples have to worry about now, but honestly, that’s awkward to witness in real life and below the belt to exploit for tv purposes (as in Decision House and Dr. Phil house). This is meant to be about trivial stuff, because really, don’t we all just need to step back and laugh about something. so don’t watch if you don’t like it, but i hope this show sticks around for a while.

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