I am a big fan of stand-up comedy. I’m pretty knowledgeable about it, I work with stand-up comedians and I even dabbled in it a bit myself. I’d like to think that I know what I’m talking about when I say that stand-up comedy is very similar to boxing. You get in the ring, put your all into the punch you throw and hope it connects. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. The great boxers have mastered the art, can almost always land their punches and get a knockout. But don’t let that fool you. Even the great ones miss a punch from time to time. The same rules go for comedians. The hilarious Kevin James made “Mall Cop,” the always funny Rob Corddry made “the Winner” (anybody remember that show?) and even the great Chris Rock made “I think I love my Wife.” Sometimes, your punch just doesn’t connect. That doesn’t change the fact that you’re still a great comedian.
I have never in my life seen Jerry Seinfeld throw a punch that couldn’t connect. He is one of the funniest, smartest, most talented men to ever grace stand-up comedy and the entertainment business. His documentary, Comedian, was an enlightening look at the work behind the funny and even post-Seinfeld; he’s been nearly perfect with his endeavors. So, it wasn’t a bad move on NBC’s part to hand him his own show, that he produces and makes with his friends in the industry. He’s the champ, right? When does Jerry Seinfeld miss a punch? Don’t be fooled. Everybody misses a punch.
“The Marriage Ref” is a concept that, according to the opening to the show, Seinfeld came up with when he got into a fight with his wife one night. Rather than letting his guests leave and hashing it out, he decided to let his friend stay and be the referee in their fight. Each side stated their point, and a winner was chosen. Seinfeld took this notion and turned it into the television show that NBC is now banking on to fill the time slot that “ER” left behind.
Seinfeld, along with a few celebrities and his friend/fellow stand-up comedian, Tom Papa (who you may remember from the shot lived NBC sitcom, “Come to Papa”) take real life couples’ arguments, listen to both sides, and make a decision. The group decides who the winner of the fight is. It is never said whether or not the couple follows this celebrity panel’s decision on their marriage. There is no follow-up after the winner is announced and there is no guarantee that the fight is over. But nonetheless, a decision is made and the fight suddenly has a winner or loser.
In the first episode (which debuted to high ratings thanks to the Olympic closing ceremonies) we meet two couples. The first couple is the Radolphis from Long Island. Kevin and Danielle (don’t act like you didn’t just giggle thinking of the Jonas Brother and his wife…. No? Oh.) are soul-mates. The only riff in their perfect life stems from Kevin’s wacky way of memorializing his favorite pet dog: it’s stuffed. He would like to keep it on display in the living room, but she “can’t.” She repeats the fact that she “can’t” over and over again, giving much fuel to host Tom Papa. The case is brought to Mr. Seinfeld (who broke up a marriage after only 4 weeks), Alec Baldwin (who had a notoriously bitter divorce) and Kelly Ripa (no beef with her marriage, it seems perfect. No really, it does. Have you seen those Electrolux commercials? What a life!) So… three random celebrities that have no reason to be giving anyone else advice… what do you say? The wife wins. Yay?
The second couple is dealt with pretty much the same way, only their issue is that the husband wants a stripper pole instead of a stuffed dead dog. When I say this couple is dealt with in the same way, I mean even the jokes are repeated. The way Danielle from our first couple kept repeating “I can’t,” Diana from this second said the line “what is it,” and host Tom Papa decided to replay that line over and over again, thus making it a similar bit to the “I can’t” repetition. The couple’s case is brought to the celebrity panel and, again, the vote is in favor of the wife. Woo?
The problem with the show is that when you attach a name like Jerry Seinfeld you expect knee slapping funny. Unfortunately, the show is so basic, that it rarely allows Seinfeld the chance to play off the couples or the celebrity panel. He says his response and hardly has a chance to offer up funny wisdom. It’s not as bad as when the cast of “the View,” talks over each other; it’s more organized than that. But, it is hard to get a joke in when all of the funny points have already been pointed out by the host and the rest of the celebrity panel members. Aside from Seinfeld struggling to get his jokes in, Papa who I have seen live and find extremely entertaining, is very clean cut and toned down for network TV. The laughter by the panelists seems forced and the random cameos by Natalie Morales and Marv Albert are just random. Actually those appearances may just be the most laugh out loud thing about the show.
The real appeal of the show is the celebrity panel. While this episode’s was on the weak side, we’ve been teased with future appearances from Larry David, Tina Fey, Ricky Gervais and Madonna. But is a celebrity’s opinion on some one else’s marriage, worth your 10p.m. slot on Thursdays? My guess is no. I’ll catch that same celebrity when they are the guest judge on “Project Runway” or make an appearance on “Burn Notice.”
Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield eventually experienced a knock out in their careers. Unfortunately for Mr. Seinfeld, he seems to be headed towards one too. He better start landing some punches and making us laugh, or else he’ll have his first TKO.