Make no mistake, host Tom Papa is the big “x-factor” for the success of NBC’s The Marriage Ref, airing on Sunday nights at 10:00 p.m. Only a quick-witted yet calming host could emcee this unusual but hilarious show that brings humor and a bit of insight to those pesky pet peeves that cause us marital pain.
These “troubled marriages” are not of the sort that would end in divorce over the issues discussed on The Marriage Ref. Such things as adultery or alcohol abuse aren’t the matters both host Papa and the current week’s guests discuss and vote on to determine who is right or wrong in the matter at hand. The gravitas of this marriage counseling show is much lighter.
A recent episode featured couples squabbling over issues such as a yard full of metal, doll houses that cost more than real houses, and a husband who insists on starting discussions with total strangers, often leaving the impatient wife waiting for such impromptu conversations to cease. The idea is for a couple to bring a nagging marital issue to the “judges” as a final and fair determination to ascertain who is “right” so that a more harmonious married life may go on.
While Papa does an outstanding job of emceeing the show, the show’s producers, headed by Jerry Seinfeld, wisely choose celebrity guest marriage judges who bring a bit of humorous punditry to the game. Meet the Press hosts will not likely be on The Marriage Ref’s panel is what I’m saying here. You will get the likes of Regis Philbin, Kathy Griffin, Tracy Morgan, and often Jerry Seinfeld himself.
Papa and the judges' panel of the week are introduced to the dueling couples and the big problem at hand. The panel then discusses the problem as presented by a film vignette introducing the couple and some video of the marital dispute for which they seek counsel.
The panel, adroitly led by Papa, will then discuss the issue. The marital disputes are often humorous things. The panel might comment on doll house furniture and the need for expensive three-inch chandeliers. They will opine on the weirdness of a man starting strange conversations with total strangers and the wisdom of this. At times the panel will lash out in good fun at the man who wants his already attractive middle-aged wife to join the gym and wear sexy clothes.
The dueling couple is then brought on stage live to meet their judging panel. Panel members will then ask the husband or wife pressing questions to better determine their vote. Why does a leather couch for a doll house cost almost $500, a panel member might query, and these searching questions do cause the viewer to sit up and listen intently because inquiring minds do, it would seem, want to know.
The panel is then directed to enter its verdict as to which member of the disputing couple is right, and thus, also, which is in the wrong.
The couple does agree to accept the decision of the panel and further, the couple is entered into the pool of that night’s participants. The winner of that pool will have a huge billboard erected near the couple’s hometown that asserts which member of the marital team is in the right, as well as a cool $25,000 to sweeten their very public ordeal.
It’s all good comedy and the laughs are constant.
And if you should find yourself in a marital dispute of a frivolous nature, consider having the panel of The Marriage Ref settle it once and for all.