Tuesday Pop Review- The Marriage Ref

Hello all, and welcome to this week’s Pop Review.  I have been reviewing a lot of sports and television lately, tipping you off again to the fact that I’m a slow reader!

Today we discuss The Marriage Ref, part 2 of NBC’s Sunday night answer to the football offseason (NBC hosts Sunday Night Football) following the end of Celebrity Apprentice.  The Marriage Ref is produced by Jerry Seinfeld, which NBC is quick to remind you of anytime it can, and is premised in Seinfeld-esque fashion on breaking down disputes over little idiosyncrasies causing a disruption in America’s marriages.  Each week, three couples bring a dispute before host Tom Papa and a panel of three celebrities, normally including at least one member of the Seinfeld/Larry David/Saturday Night Live lineage which great in that these are some of the funniest celebs out there, but leaves you wondering if they are hurting for bigtime bookings!

Each couple gets their own segment of the show, during which we are treated to a video vignette of their home life, what’s good about it, and what the problem is.  Then the host and panelists comically debate about the problem before bringing the couple out live and rendering a verdict.  I find the show extremely entertaining, especially to watch with my wife as it makes for some interesting conversation about the disputes, usually leaving me to realize how good I have it!!

Here are my 3 most significant likes/dislikes about the show:


1) Papa Knows Best– I’m not sure anyone knew who this guy was before this show came along, but he’s a great host.  His witty banter with both the couples and the celebrities typically is spot on.

2) Higher Production Value– Since last year’s first season, the show has an upgraded studio, upgraded graphics, now flies the couples in to the studio instead of announcing the decision to them on a video set, and has added a $25,000 prize to the couple whose spouse is the “most right” as voted by the studio audience.

3) Smart Panel Selections– Thus far, the show has done a good job of going not so much for A-List celebrities, but rather for those who would make good panelists.  Let’s face it, I’m not expecting to find much of anything that Vin Diesel or Nicole Kidman says to be funny or interesting.  I’m more entertained with panelists like legendary standup comedian George Wallace or Susie Essman from Curb Your Enthusiasm.


1) Contrived much?  It’s really hard to overlook the logistics of this show.  A couple submits some low production home movie of their issue, they get selected, and then producers go to their home with cameras and obviously egg the couples on to have a high-level on-screen argument over the issue.  It’s just another slice of non-reality reality television.  But I don’t know how they work around this. 

2) Papa Sometimes Knew Best! Ok so this looks similar to one of my likes but it’s a complaint on a different issue.  In Season One, Papa was indeed the “Ref” in Marriage Ref, meaning that the panelists were merely advisors, and Papa would make the ultimate decision, including occasionally overruling a majority.  Now, the panel is the jury, with a majority rule deciding the dispute.  Papa is relegated to playing mediator, mostly just trying to keep it interesting by arguing the other side when it’s obvious which way the entire panel is leaning.  I just found it more interesting under the old format.

3) Why Just an Offseason Fill-in? – Ever notice how getting Seinfeld or Larry David to keep doing more work is like pulling teeth?  They both were Favre-like while near the end of the run for both Seinfeld and even now with Curb Your Enthusiasm, as we are always left hanging from year to year of whether they want to continue the show.  The Marriage Ref similarly has an abbreviated half-season run instead of being a mainstay in the primetime lineup with the typical 20-25 episodes.  I don’t get it.  It’s a relatively cheap show to put on.

This is an entertaining but flawed show.  Check it out and lemme know what you think.

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2 Comments on “Tuesday Pop Review- The Marriage Ref”

  1. Michelle Says:

    I’m not sure how I came across this: could have been Hulu, could have been through Google, because I was searching to see what others had to say about a season 2 episode I was watching.

    I like “The Marriage Ref,” for the most part. The panelists definitely make fun of the couples (before they come on stage and sometimes to their faces) as if the couples are intellectually below them and won’t understand the jokes. The couples are good sports, though. Not a huge deal, but I can’t imagine having a panel of people and an entire studio audience laughing at my accent, the way I dress, or some other quirk.

    Another issue I have is the fact that there are people who clearly are suffering from a mental illness and need help. For example, in the episode with Seth Meyers, George Wallace, and Denise Richards, there was a man who was controlling of his home to the point where he wanted his wife to open condiment packets a certain way and he placed signs as to how to leave a room. He was clearly upset when the panelists questioned some of these practices (the condiment packet, how to open a bag of chips, putting the bathroom trash with the kitchen trash, etc) and defended many of his actions as protecting the security of his family. I do not work in the mental health industry, but this sounds more like a mental disorder (such as obsessive-compulsive personality disorder) that could be treated by a licensed professional. Also, having people (like the panel) yell “you’re crazy” at a person is really not appropriate in any situation, ESPECIALLY when one could be suffering from an untreated mental disorder. I would appreciate it if the show had a licensed professional consultant that talked to people afterwards. It wouldn’t even have to be on the air. For guests, like this couple, it might actually be helpful, rather than just satisfying one person and saying “you’re right, your (significant other) is wrong” when, in reality, their significant other may not be able to help their behavior and will repeat it again.

    In these cases, going on the show makes me think of “freakshows” at the circus. Something that could be helped (maybe not then) but instead was made into a joke.

    • Craig Salner Says:

      Glad you stuck around to read the blog entry after stumbling onto my site and thanks so much for the comment!

      Your opinions are definitely valid, particularly with the couple you are speaking about. That husband was due for a smack in the face for all those condescending signs he puts up.

      My thoughts on your concerns are two-fold: 1) Just like I believe they do with all the “problems” discussed on the show, I am confident that the issues are ratcheted up on purpose and via instructions from producers once the cameras start rolling. 2) I guarantee that these folks are counseled beforehand that appearance on the show is no substitute for and not meant in any way to constitute “marriage counselling,” but rather is a show purely for entertainment purposes. They definitely sign paperwork confirming their agreement on that point.

      I hope you continue to read and comment!!

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