How could anyone not like "The Marriage Ref"? Um, easy ...
As anyone who has seen his recent stand-up act can attest, an aging Seinfeld has also become a much wiser Seinfeld. He's married, has kids, so naturally, he riffs on the new things he gets to observe -- for instance, the size of kids' heads -- through his role as husband and father. So it's no surprise that a fight with his wife, and the subsequent need to bring in an unbiased friend to settle the dispute, launched NBC's new primetime show, "The Marriage Ref."
Second, critics have naturally jumped on the "Can Seinfeld Save NBC" bandwagon -- which is just as unfair to Seinfeld as it was to Leno. Third, this is Jerry freakin' Seinfeld. There's no way his newfangled spin on non-scripted programming with high profile guest stars like Alec Baldwin, Tina Fey, Madonna, Ricky Gervais and Larry David won't succeed, right?
Um, have I told you lately how much I love "Seinfeld" reruns?
"The Marriage Ref" could work -- and might work -- given the right material. Granted, the TV audience probably isn't looking for Divorce Court meets Jerry Springer here. But last night's two "arguments" -- a dispute over a stuffed family dog and a husband's wish to put a stripper pole in the bedroom -- felt way too canned, way too Jay Leno-y.
Even worse, Seinfeld, who was a panelist with a super-energized Baldwin (not laugh out loud funny, but amusing) and Kelly Ripa, seemed like more of a distraction than the star attraction. That's unfortunate, because as funny as "Marriage Ref" Tom Papa might be to Seinfeld, he's not the guy viewers are tuning in to watch. If this in his vehicle, and Seinfeld is merely a passenger as executive producer, "The Marriage Ref" has already failed.
It would have made more sense to have Seinfeld open with some standup about marriage difficulties -- and do so each week -- before introducing each couple and their supposedly funny dispute. Clearly, NBC and Seinfeld are looking to keep things family friendly, so you're not going to get an all-out battle over a husband's porn obsession or anything that would cross over into John Wayne Bobbitt territory. Even so, if the joke is solely on the "quirky" couple's cheesy argument, then we're entering "America's Funniest Home Videos" territory here.
Then again, I can't imagine Larry David or Ricky Gervais not being hilarious, even in the face of a minor couple's quarrel over not replacing the toilet paper roll. In fact, watching David and Gervais try to be funny on a very bad show might be even more exciting ... so there's that to look forward to.
That said, while my expectations weren't super high, given Seinfeld's track record, I expected something a little bit richer here. Seinfeld has never been an edgy or mean-spirited comedian, so this isn't like comparing Chris Rock's standup to Chris Rock in "I Think I Love My Wife." And while Seinfeld has already said that "The Marriage Ref" isn't supposed to be serious business, since marriage is, it might be wise to dig beneath the surface a little bit so that you don't come off looking like a really lame "Saturday Night Live" skit.
"The Marriage Ref" airs at 9 p.m. Thursday on NBC. Panelists are Tina Fey, Eva Longoria Parker and Jerry Seinfeld.
-- Thomas Rozwadowski, firstname.lastname@example.org