It's easy to be hyperbolic about how bad The Marriage Ref is. "Televised Abortion" immediately springs to mind. Inside, the mistakes NBC has made over the years with their programming, and how it's all echoed in The Marriage Ref.
NBC—with the exception of the Olympics—has been in a freefall for years now, dropping from first to fourth place (out of five network stations). It's a result of bad timing, worse programming, and terrible executive decisions. The Marriage Ref looks to be the confluence of each of these things, all in one show. It was bad. Like...really bad. After only one episode, this already may be the worst show on television right now.
Before I even get to why this show is rock bottom for NBC, let's discuss the intro. It was the influence for the show with Seinfeld and his wife drawn as awful caricatures playing baseball as the comparison for their argument. The animation is crude, the comparison is stupid, and BASEBALL DOES NOT HAVE REFEREES.
It's a Bad Idea, Executed Poorly
Getting a silly couple bickering over some silly "thing" and having celebrities judge them makes me think that TV is running out of ideas. The biggest problem I saw was that the "reffing" was so vanilla and wholesome. Maybe if the judges were irreverent and made fun of the couple with lots of bleeped cursing and poking at of each other it could be promising. It's on at 10:30 at night for goodness sake! Be crude! And that's not even mentioning the judges they got for the show. Alec Baldwin? Really? He's not really known for his marital prowess. I guess screaming at your daughter and calling her a "pig" over a fight with your wife gives him credentials to tell other couples what to do in their marriages. And what future guests do we have to look forward to? Larry David and Madonna! Two more people known for their successful marriages.
There's No Direction
The show wants to be an off-the-cuff improv-like discussion of these couple's problems. It ended up being the exact opposite of that. Cringe-inducing scripted jokes, pre-packaged material from the married couples, and audience laughter where it seemed like they all had a guns pointed at them. Here is Kelly Ripa forcing out one of at least 50 forced laughs during the show.
All of this on a set that looked like it was designed by Jay Leno himself. It all reeked of being as unfocused as the The Jay Leno Show, but somehow less funny. Yes, i would rather watch Jay Leno than this smelly trainwreck. But the bad jokes would be forgiveable if the show had promise. It didn't. It had as much focus as an 8-year-old that just flushed his bottle of ritalin down the toilet. They had newswoman Natalie Morales from NBC give them useless facts about the couple's argument in a "Just the Facts" segment, and then Marv Albert came in at the end of the show for some reason to recap—stuff? This all stinks of people not being able to tell Jerry Seinfeld "no." It's too easy to picture Seinfeld meeting with producers and throwing out wild ideas. "What if we get Marv Albert to recap the best one-liners!" and everyone in the meeting nods like an idiot in agreement. Jerry Seinfeld is the George Lucas of the comedy world. He struck gold with an idea, became a powerful gajillionaire, and now everyone is too scared to disagree with him. And this show is the result of that. Keep it simple!
It Recycles Burnt-Out Talent
Jerry Seinfeld hasn't been funny or relevant for years. His two forays back into show business since Seinfeld are Bee Movie—and this. And both have been giant failures. Well, this hasn't yet, but it will be. But seeing Seinfeld produce and be a guest on this show just shows how out of touch he is with the current television landscape, as well as comedy in general. Both Ripa and Baldwin were much much funnier than Seinfeld last night. His jokes were barely even jokes.
It looks like a textbook inside of a piece of paper? That's what you're giving us, Seinfeld? That joke seriously made Baña's Bosco bit look like gold. Gold, Jerry! Surely Joe Sacamano is rolling over in his grave right now.
Since this show is taking over the now vacated 10 PM slot, it was promoted heavily throughout the Olympics. If Leno will be successful, they need they're going to need very strong lead-ins. The Marriage Ref was promoted as a non-stop celebrity orgy laughathon, but they didn't show any of the jokes made that caused this rib-tickling laughter...because they weren't funny. The other thing they didn't promote was that the host of this show was going to be Tom "Big" Papa. An "I've seen that guy somewhere!" comedian who was quite simply painful to watch—and he had more airtime than anyone. Not ONCE during the promotion for this show did NBC air a shot of Papa. And when he came out onto the set, the viewers were blindsided by him and his mediocrity. The Marriage Ref's promotion was botched in the same way NBC fumbled promoting their Jay Leno Show/Tonight Show experiment. They promoted Jay's show constantly, and didn't bother promoting The Tonight Show whatsoever. Pulling a bait and switch may work for the first episode, but it certainly won't bring viewers back.
You know what else won't bring viewers back? EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS SHOW. You're out, marriage umpire.