The Horror, The Horror of The Marriage Ref
by Jonathan Gray — University of Wisconsin - Madison
March 01, 2010 – 01:01
We all owe Jay Leno an apology. Many of us thought his show was awful. We also owe Jeff Zucker an apology, since we thought he had shown us the worst NBC could offer. But Zucker, it turns out, was just getting warmed up, and Leno’s inability to be funny seems kind of quaint and charming now that I have seen the horror that is The Marriage Ref.
It’s really hard to know where to begin with a review of something so utterly bad. I’d been led to believe that Seinfeld would be the host, but instead he sat there at the side like a creepy guy at a public park. The actual host was about as funny as a snuff film. The crowd were laughing, but I felt for their family members, who were clearly being held under duress elsewhere on the NBC lot, with threats of them being “disappeared” if the audience didn’t laugh, damn it, laugh.
As for the other celebrities, I didn’t know whether to feel more sad for Alec Baldwin or angry at him for agreeing to do this. I hope next time he’s up for an Emmy for Best Comic Performance, they discount this against him. Say what you will about According to Jim, but at least Belushi never did something like this (did he?). I note too that nobody outside the NBC/Universal family appeared on the show; indeed, if I ran any of the other networks, I’d be begging, cajoling, and pleading with my talent to stay away.
Despite those celebs, the whole affair was low budget, not in a fun and endearing way, but in a painful, bewildering way. NBC looks so broke, so destitute with this, and not just monetarily. The couples were rude, disinteresting, and entirely unbelievable (one of them wanted a stripper pole in his room, and NBC expects us to believe he’s earnest in thinking the judges would agree with him?), living proof of why the network will need to pay for real WGA writers, not just the hacks who created these scripts. The only thing that made it was compelling was seeing how much worse it could get.
So, okay, the above’s a rant. You might be reading it and wondering what made me so grumpy today. But that’s the funny part. Nothing did: Canada won gold in men’s hockey. I couldn’t be happier. I’m riding Cloud Nine. And NBC gave me the win in full HD. So if ever there was a day in which NBC might’ve convinced me that something very, very bad was actually okay, it was today. Which makes me wonder: if this is how bad it is today, how much worse will it look when it starts for real?
When longtime television shows die, they’re said to have “jumped the shark,” courtesy of Happy Days’ dark days. Franchises can now be said to have “nuked the fridge” when they turn stupid as did Indiana Jones. In years to come, we may well find ourselves explaining to students that the by-then-well-known phrase for an entire network sinking into obscurity, “becoming a marriage ref,” came from February 28, 2010, when NBC announced that they really don’t care about quality any more.