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the awkward ref
seinfeld presides over his new show
by reem al-omari (@Reemawi)

The Winter Olympics came to an end this past Sunday, and NBC decided to wedge a new show in the middle of its closing ceremony broadcast. They filled a half-hour time slot with the premier of the heavily-advertised The Marriage Ref.

NBC primetime veteran Jerry Seinfeld is the headliner of this reality TV style show, though he is not the title character. Instead, the marriage ref is someone I’ve never seen or heard of before, a comedian named Tom Papa.

The Marriage Ref's humor, like his clothes and hairstyle, is conservative. He makes marriage out to be simpler than it actually is. Or at least, I think.

The format is this: The marriage ref introduces a couple with a unique, easy-to-make-fun-of problem along with a panel of three judges, one of whom will always be Jerry Seinfeld, and the other two a changing smorgasbord of celebrities ranging from Madonna to Ricky Gervais. After comical deliberation, the three judges then cast their casual votes, ultimately siding with one half of the couple.

Let me start by saying that this show misses the mark, if for nothing else than for the awkwardness of it all. I found it too hokey, like it was trying too hard to find comedy in places where comedy may not exist, or even should.

I don’t think the awkwardness was just the uniform kind that comes with any show’s first episode. As Seinfeld made his jokes, I sensed that even he felt strained to come up with something funny to say.

Perhaps Seinfeld didn’t know what he had bargained for when he went for this idea that would bring him back into living rooms at primetime every Thursday. Proof lies in the opening of the show, a cartoon explaining how the idea for it came about; sounds like it was just a suggestion stemming from the many light arguments between Seinfeld and his own wife.

Seinfeld also played the quintessential bachelor and perpetual dater for a little under a decade in the iconic NBC show, Seinfeld. It's hard for me to picture him as someone who can help anyone within the context of marriage, and I think he knows that.

The awkwardness doesn’t stop with Seinfeld or the panelists grabbing at straws to find comedy, however.

The first case presented to Seinfeld, along with Alec Baldwin and Kelly Ripa, was of a couple who’ve been married for 14 years but are having a bit of a disagreement about the husband’s unhealthy attachment to his dog—dead dog, that is.

A brief montage skimmed over how this couple met and fell in love at first sight, or at least that’s how the husband saw it. I don’t remember the woman saying anything significantly nice about the relationship, she seemed to just smile and nod as her husband did all the talking.

It wasn’t until after we were introduced to the problem that we heard anything memorable from the wife. Basically, here was this man, who loved his dog so much that upon its death he decided to have it stuffed. Yet his wife tells the camera with a coy smile that the day the dog died was one of the happiest days of her life.

As a person who’s never been married, I fall into the category of people who may look at marriage through a rose-tinted window, but let me assure you that I know perfectly well marriage is not always a smooth ride.

Still, after hearing the two sides of this case, I forgot about the stuffed dog and the shrine dedicated to it and instead got stuck on the real issue. You see, it’s one thing for someone to object to the idea of having a stuffed dog and a shrine for that dog in the house because, let’s face it, it’s beyond creepy. But it’s quite another to be insensitive toward your significant other about something that obviously means enough to him or her that they would go to such lengths.

Personally, if my husband displayed such behavior, I would call a shrink, not celebrities. Even if I walk out from behind the rose-tinted window, I still see something deeper than a dead dog coming between these two people.

When it was time to deliver the verdict via satellite, the couple was shown sitting side by side at home, looking happy. The marriage ref asked the couple some questions and as they answered, they more than once talked over each other. At one point, which is a very serious and telling one to me, the husband, obviously agitated by the jokes, turned to his wife and told her to shut up.

It was obvious that this had taken the wife aback, as she didn’t turn back to the camera for a while. Instead, she kept her eyes fixed on her husband as he went back to defending his stance. When she finally did look back at the camera, she looked bewildered. Perhaps she’d had an epiphany.

I can’t help but think that this couple doesn’t quite understand each other, it has nothing to do with the dog, really. I can’t say that I know what the real problem is, but I do know that a marriage counselor would fare better than Seinfeld and a bunch of glitzy people poking fun at something that should not be taken lightly.

Perhaps I’m looking too deep into this hokey show that wants to be so funny that the two regulars are comedians, but it’s hard to not notice the ripples that tell anyone looking close enough that there is a deeper problem behind the one that was just entertaining enough to land a spot on Thursday night television.


Reem lives and writes about it. She thinks that's what writers do, anyway. If it's not, then she also has a degree in journalism under her belt, along with the titles of reporter, editor (in chief, even) and, of course, opinion columnist.

more about reem al-omari


genx television
before there was hdtv
by reem al-omari
topic: television
published: 7.23.08


tracey kelley
3.4.10 @ 2:19p

How lovely. Pretentious celebrities doing a reality show to show how superior they are. No. Thank. You.

tim lockwood
3.6.10 @ 3:09a

I watched the episode in question, and yes, whether or not they should keep the poor stuffed animal around was a gimme - of course the guy should get rid of the poor animal. What disturbed me was the idea that one or the other of them was going to be judged absolutely wrong and the other was going to be judged absolutely right.

As someone wise around here once said, I'm no expert on marriage, but I'm an expert on my marriage. And in my experience, there is rarely a situation where I'm 100% right and she's 100% wrong, or vice versa. The answer almost always lies somewhere in the middle. In the example of the stuffed dog, there was no attempt made, even comedically, to determine an alternative to keeping the animal's stuffed carcass (such as making a photographic shrine, or having a private doggie funeral in the back yard, etc.), or to determine why on earth the man felt that having his dog stuffed and mounted was such a superior alternative to any other possible solution.

More alarming than the panel's failure to address these questions was the couple's failure to do so. No marriage is perfect, but the inability to figure out an acceptable compromise after having been married for 14 years doesn't say much for their marriage. And in the end, putting your marital problems on display for the whole nation to see is just sad.

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