Monday, June 20, 2011

{alltv} Seinfeld's 'Marriage Ref' returns 

Here's why The Marriage Ref works on a certain level:

It's like an old-time, late-night talk show, when the likes of Dean Martin and George Gobel and Bob Hope would wind up sitting together on Johnny Carson's couch (if you've never seen that classic clip from The Tonight Show, look it up on YouTube).

That's in stark contrast to today's late-night talk-show model, which is: Celebrity No. 1 arrives, robotically promotes something, leaves; celebrity No. 2 arrives, robotically promotes something, leaves; random musical act; goodnight, everybody.

But just like an old-time talk show, the watchability of The Marriage Ref -- which returns for its second season Sunday, June 26 on NBC and Citytv -- largely is dependent upon the quality of its "guests."

It's a high-end group for the second-season debut, with co-executive producer Jerry Seinfeld, Ricky Gervais and Julianne Moore officiating long-running quirky squabbles between three real-life married couples.

The hook to The Marriage Ref, which is hosted by Tom Papa, is that the three judges declare a winner in each marital dispute.


Raising the stakes for season two, at the end of each episode the studio audience decides which of the evening's three winners is the "most right." That person gets $25,000 US and a billboard in their home town proclaiming their victory over their spouse.

The Marriage Ref is a little cheesy, and it's necessary for the discerning viewer to get over the fact that brilliant comedians such as Seinfeld and Gervais are kibitzing on something so goofily mainstream. That subject actually comes up -- at least indirectly -- when Seinfeld starts singing a silly song he wrote for his own kids.

Noticing that Gervais is staring incredulously, Seinfeld stops and asks, "What are you making that face for?"

"Because you wrote Seinfeld! One of the greatest shows of all time!" Gervais exclaims, causing Jerry to double over in laughter.

"You were my hero! I came on this show twice (including once in the first season) because Jerry Seinfeld asked me! And now he's a pumpkin man!"

The subject of pumpkins does not come up randomly, but rather because that's what one of the couples is fighting about. The wife believes the husband is too obsessed with pumpkins.

The other couples' arguments in the second-season premiere centre on a destructive mother-in-law who visits for six months at a time, and a husband whose frat-boy-quality, non-cash, embarrassing-task bets with his buddies are starting to humiliate his family around the neighbourhood.

As the second season of The Marriage Ref continues, guest judges on tap include Regis Philbin, Joel McHale, Kathy Griffin, Mary J. Blige, Will.I.Am, Bill Maher, Patti LaBelle, Caroline Rhea, Denise Richards and Tracy Morgan (eep, given his recent controversies, it would be interesting if there were a gay couple on his episode!).

Obvious differences notwithstanding, The Marriage Ref makes us a tad nostalgic for the days when Hope and Gobel and Martin and Carson would crack each other up on The Tonight Show.

Now those are four guys who could have used a referee.

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