Last night, the closing ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics were cut short (on the East Coast) so that NBC could broadcast a half-hour sneak preview of Jerry Seinfeld’s new show, The Marriage Ref. Now, I don’t care about the Olympics, or winter for that matter, but I still feel like both of those things deserve a modicum of respect, such that a world celebration of the human spirit can finish on its own time and doesn’t need to be pushed aside or cut short for a painfully bored billionaire’s existential crisis. Look, I can’t imagine what it’s like to be Jerry Seinfeld. Trapped in that giant mansion with that plagiarist wife of his, knowing that the best work of his career is most certainly behind him, sitting in the bay window with a glass of warm vodka, staring out at the helipad and wondering how many years he has left until it all disappears forever and he’s just another footnote in the dustbin of Wikipedia. I’d probably get antsy too! But I like to believe that I wouldn’t take out that antsiness on the rest of the world in the form of a brutally unfunny garbage reality show that seems like it’s some kind of joke being played on the world by Randolph and Mortimer Duke to resolve a one dollar bet.
The show opens with an animated Jerry Seinfeld explaining what the show is about. It’s actually not that complicated, conceptually: a married couple comes on with a lighthearted dispute, and a celebrity panel of judges determines who is “right.” The end. But Seinfeld seems to believe this is a personal project (a very special reality TV), or maybe it’s that he realizes it is miserable but wants to use his star power to somehow sell it to people as a test of his remaining cultural clout, and so the explanation devolves into a weird story about Seinfeld arguing with his own wife, which is the apocryphal story he keeps telling to the press about the show’s original conception, with the ACTUAL POINT being that we all argue in our marriages, even bored millionaires if you can believe it, which is an OBVIOUS but also DISGUSTING point to make, and it also complicates what should be a simple enough lead-in, so that by the time the show starts we are entirely confused. Good start, show!
Although, what starts as mild confusion quickly dissolves into disgust.
Oh, but before we move onto that, remember how I mentioned that there was an animated intro to the show? So, that segment ends with an animated Jerry Seinfeld riding in an animated limousine to the studio.
Wait, WHAT? Remember, this is a cartoon, which means ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE. Like, he could have been in a spaceship, or it could have just been a disembodied Seinfeld head tied with a rope to the back of a donkey like a saddlebag. And it’s not like the animation morphs into live footage of Jerry Seinfeld in a limousine to signal a shift back to the real world. The limousine is always a cartoon that does not exist. This means that in a meeting about how to open the show, the idea was raised that cartoon Jerry Seinfeld should be transported via cartoon limousine to his new show, in the manner to which cartoon Jerry Seinfeld has become cartoon accustomed, and everyone said “yes, that is a good idea, and we are going to go ahead with that.” Unfuckingbelievable.
Although, that is, again, kind of the worst thing about the Marriage Ref, which is saying a lot considering how bad it is: no matter how bad a show gets, one can always argue that people need to put food on their families. Not true in this case! Everyone involved, with the exception of the married couples and probably the host Tom Papa, is a millionaire whose children never have to work a day in their lives. As amazing as it is to even attempt to conceptualize, this actually IS a passion project for Jerry Seinfeld. And he has emptied out his Favors Jar to get people on board. At the end of the episode, which was just a teaser, the real thing is going to be a FULL FUCKING HOUR, they announced all the great stars who are going to appear on the show, and you could hear a collective “Whoops” reverberating around the entertainment industry. Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey, Martin Short, Madonna? The balance sheets have been wiped clean! Whatever Thai prostitute died at your hands at a party in Montauk 10 years ago has been avenged.
There was an article about the Marriage Ref in yesterday’s New York Times, and I found the following section particularly disheartening:
Before “The Marriage Ref” has brought out its first couple, it has more immediately evoked another union: the one between Mr. Seinfeld, one of the most popular performers associated with NBC, and the network itself, whose fortunes have declined precipitously since he ended his sitcom and which would pay almost any price to have him back.
To get Mr. Seinfeld back on its prime-time lineup and, it hopes, regain some of that lost glory, NBC has signed up a show that does not necessarily ring of his familiar comedy brand. It is not a scripted series about neurotic single people, but a hybrid reality-comedy-variety-celebrity-panel show about marriage.
Perhaps nobody appreciates the paradox better than Mr. Seinfeld himself. “I love the chessboard at this particular moment,” he said later, when the screening was over and he was alone in the conference room with a reporter. “I think it would be a hilariously ironic moment to suddenly have a hit on NBC.”
He added: “Everything’s so wrong. That’s what I love about it.”.
I don’t know what is ironic about having a hit on NBC. I mean, I know that network has fallen on hard times lately, but they are still a major entertainment powerhouse with billions of dollars? Irony doesn’t really enter the picture. And I don’t know what “everything’s so wrong” means? Is it some kind of riddle that you can only solve if you own your own shark tank? But the part that is sad about this is NBC’s blind desire to do business with Seinfeld regardless of any circumstances whatsoever. Why? I mean, you guys should really talk about this stuff before you agree to it. You definitely won’t recapture your former glory, but you very well might tarnish its memory. Because this show is cheap and lazy and terrible, and no amount of people who were very successful 12 YEARS AGO is going to change that. Similarly, this quote:
“Jerry has a talismanic quality at NBC,” said Paul Telegdy, the network’s executive vice president for alternative programming. Mr. Telegdy added that he would “frankly respect” Mr. Seinfeld’s wishes if he wanted to make the show “as a musical in 12 acts, or if he wanted to do it in the North Pole.”
That’s supposed to be a joke, I think, as if a musical in 12 acts taped in the North Pole would somehow be worse than this? It wouldn’t. At the very least, a musical in 12 acts taped in the North Pole conceived by Jerry Seinfeld would be unusual and surprising and a major production. This thing looks like it was created as part of a Community College’s night course in television production.
NBC seriously needs to stop complaining about the difficulty it is having in the ratings. That is like a baby crying about having difficulty in the ratings, after the baby fired Conan O’Brien, and banked its future on Jay Leno, and pretended like The Marriage Ref was a triumphant return for Jerry Seinfeld that would be even remotely competitive in a television landscape that has now known the beauty and sophistication of The Wire and Mad Men and the comedic complexity of Arrested Development and Eastbound and Down. It’s no secret that America embraces and celebrates terrible things on a regular basis, but even America has its limits.
You know what, we don’t really need to actually talk about the show, because the show doesn’t deserve to be talked about. It’s atrocious. It’s a joke. It feels like a fake reality show in a Wayans Brothers movie. It feels like a reality show that your friend came up with one night, and you were like, “you really need to put down the bong and go to bed, your shift at the gas station starts in six hours.” Although, I will say this about last night’s episode: BRAVA, ALEC BALDWIN. I don’t know how he managed to stay charming amidst this Actual Tornado of Human Shit, but he did, and therefore he deserves our respect. You are a terrible father, sir, but an entertainer through and through.
That being said, I still have no idea what Alec Baldwin was ever laughing at. And that goes triple for you, Pippa.
What a terrible, terrible show. It almost makes The Jay Leno Show look good. (Needs more green car race track!) I’m just kidding, it doesn’t, that show was the very worst, but you understand my use of hyperbole to make a point.