The Marriage Ref -- TV Review

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When approaching the field of "The Marriage Ref," a show with a Jerry Seinfeld exec producer provenance more highly touted than anything else about it, you'd best come wearing shin guards. Surely there was no good reason to expect that the series -- in which three unrelated celebrities sit in judgment over arguments otherwise-loving couples are having, with comic Tom Papa mediating -- would try and cover the Mars/Venus divide in a serious way. After all: Seinfeld.

And yet the great silliness of what's thus far been put on display (a post-Olympics half-hour "sneak peek" on Sunday) seems to indicate that what might have been a vaguely informative if humorous take on dealing with spousal craziness is simply going to be played for entertainment value. Apparently, once television leaves Daypart Oprah, any chance to educate goes right out the window, and by 10 p.m. there's nothing left to do but giggle at the idiot box

There are some giggles worth having, sometimes even from the celebrity guests. The panel is random enough to jolt interest, though the preview threesome of Alec Baldwin, Kelly Ripa and Seinfeld seemed to gel only intermittently; later episodes promise combinations like Larry David, Madonna and Ricky Gervais, a trio I'd pay money to watch.

But the real laughs come from the highly cast couples, which I don't doubt are real but clearly are Made for Television. In an odd bit of synergy, both women in the preview presented similar problems: They objected to items their tone-deaf husbands insisted on having in the home. In one case, this meant taxidermy of the not-so-beloved family pet; in the other, a stripper pole in the bedroom ("No! It's for exercise!" was the feeble defense). Both wives earned big laughs by repeatedly sputtering their denials; both husbands got full reality checks from the panel. Meanwhile, the usefulness of surprisingly stiff Ref Papa seemed to fade with every passing moment.

So, it's inoffensive stuff. You won't learn much, but you'll get a few laughs, and while we tend to expect a bit more depth out of Seinfeld, there's far worse out there. At least this seems to be a show where the squabbling pairs actually like each other; there's little of that on primetime reality shows. Whether light fare like this deserves a full hour -- well, that's another story.

Airdate: 10 p.m. Thursday, March 4 (NBC)
Production: Columbus 81, Ellen Rakieten Entertainment
Host: Tom Papa
Executive producers: Jerry Seinfeld, Ellen Rakieten, Nick Emmerson, Jennifer O'Connell, George Shapiro, Howard West, Al Berman
Writers: Jeff Cesario, Chuck Martin, Tom Papa
Supervising producers: Jeff Cesario, Chuck Martin, Jeff Stilson, Gina Sprehe
Producers: Gayle Depoli, Sean Murphy
Director: Beth McCarthy-Miller
Production designer: Keith Ian Raywood
Casting: Sandra Philippeaux