The last couple of weeks our tv-watching time has been mostly consumed with the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Despite NBC’s relatively awful coverage, I still greatly enjoyed the Games, because I love Olympic sports. Perhaps because I grew up in an area where snow has ever been a novelty, I love the Winter Games even more.
Now this year, much like in the last few games, we watched exclusively on the TiVo, often 24 hours behind the results (and after falling behind over the weekend, as much as 3-4 days behind), but it meant we could easily skip past sports that aren’t interesting (I’m looking at you, cross-country skiing), in favour of sports which are more exciting. Even if we failed to avoid spoilers, it’s usually fun to see HOW the results came about, so we oohed and ahhed over the snowboarding and the figure skating.
Aside from relatively un-telegenic sports, we also skipped most of the commercials. Honestly, I miss most commercials on television, because I simply never stop to watch them. (I had to go look up the “I’m on a horse” Old Spice commercial on YouTube, because I had no idea what aiela and davehogg were babbling about). But over the course of several breaks, it’s impossible not to see a few of them, and hence we were exposed to multiple promos for NBC’s new series, The Marriage Ref.
“That looks dreadful,” kitanzi said, and there was no reason to expect otherwise. Still, my curiosity was piqued. There were some talented people attached to this. How bad could it really be?
Having sampled an episode, I am here to report: It is very, very bad indeed. I’m reminded of Opus the Penguin’s film review in the old comic strip Bloom County: “George Phblat’s new film, ‘Benji Saves the Universe,’ has brought the word ‘BAD’ to new levels of badness. Bad acting. Bad effects. Bad everything. This film just oozed rottenness from every bad scene… Simply bad beyond all infinite dimensions of possible badness…Well maybe not that bad, but Lord, it wasn’t good.”
The premise of the show is fairly straightforward. A real married couple is having an argument over some absurd thing, Unable to resolve it, they present the facts of their argument to a celebrity panel, who make jokes about it, the host refers to a news researcher who presents some sort of statistical context for the disputed notion, the panel makes some more jokes, and then the host decides for one side or the other. The couple is brought onto a live monitor, the host informs them of the decision (with more jokes), they react predictably, and then it’s on to the next segment.
In the one episode I watched, (thanks to Hulu), there were two arguments to be settled. In the first, a man wanted to have his faithful canine companion stuffed by a taxidermist, in order to create a small shrine in the living room. In the second, the husband wanted to install a stripper pole in the house, which he imagined his wife would entertain him with. In both cases, the argument was so patently absurd that you really couldn’t figure out (absent evidence of severe brain damage) precisely why this was such an intractable issue. On the other hand, kitanzi and I once had a four-day long argument over the question “What, precisely, is poetry?”, so perhaps I shouldn’t throw stones too hard.
I could, if I were so inclined, complain about how the show perpetuates the “men are idiots” meme that has been a staple of sitcom humour for the last 30 years, but my heart isn’t really in it. Men, quite often, ARE idiots, and while I’m willing to defend them generally, I’m not really motivated to advocate for these two yahoos. They each had the hallmarks of a stubborn jackass who has made up his mind what he wants, and is so wrapped up in his desire that he isn’t listening to anything being said to him.
I could also make an argument that the very concept of this show represents a continuing dumbing down of television in the Reality Era, which makes a habit of putting ordinary people on screen for the purpose of making fun of them, but that doesn’t really have a lot of traction either, even by the notoriously low standards of reality television. Compared to pabulum such as The Bachelor and Rock of Love, The Marriage Ref is Shakespeare. Besides which, it replaces the unlamented Jay Leno Show disaster at 10pm, so it’s hard to say just how far the standards have really declined from what previously held the time slot. In truth, I’m reasonably confident that the primary reason that this show is on the air in the first place is that NBC suddenly needed to come up with an extra five hours of programming in a hurry, and it was quick to film and costs about $3.87 an episode to produce.
No, the real letdown of this show is simply that it isn’t really all that funny. I’m not really familiar with the previous work of Tom Papa, but Jerry Seinfeld is usually a funny, if somewhat annoying, comedian, and you would think he’d have better instincts than to be involved with this mess, let alone help create it. If this were being made by a bunch of unknowns in a basement studio for release on the web, it might be able to aspire to that “so bad it’s good” status, but this show is too polished, too promoted, and too well funded for that.
Without a doubt, The Marriage Ref is the most dreary, unfunny, and mediocre half-hour of television I’ve sat through in quite some time. In the final results, you’ll find it down at the bottom of the standings, with the notation “DNF”.