Making a Case for 'The Marriage Ref'

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NBC


If you're a Marriage Ref lover, you've had cause for gloating this month, after NBC announced their renewal of the series for another season. The show has apparently done the network well in its short-lived Thursday night slot. Reality TV-loving couples all over the country are hugging and high-fiving in response to the news, eager to giggle their way through another season of couples mired in silly squabbles just like their own.

Actually, here's the more likely scenario: It's Thursday night just before 10. You and your better half are settling down after a long day to relax in front of the TV. You grab the remote, and click around until you hit NBC. Your partner throws up his hands, whining about your selection of The Marriage Ref (Jerry Seinfeld's show where a panel of celebrities listen to both sides of a couple's argument and declare a winner). The accusations come in a barrage: the show is mindless drivel, a stain on Jerry Seinfeld's near-perfect record, unworthy of 45 precious minutes of your evening. You listen. You take in the arguments. You try to defend why you like the show, but all you can muster is a pathetic, "I don't know, it's just ... funny."

If you've followed the show from the beginning, you'll know that sort of logic would never go over with the experts who help Tom Papa ref his way to a winner. Madonna would call you weak-willed. Larry David would hate on you. Jason Alexander would get up from his chair and imitate your pathetic attempt at defense. So before you get up in a huff to hook yourself to Hulu, why not arm yourself with some good reasons for your television preferences? That way if your partner ever drags you on Ref in some sort of cruel act of poetic justice, you'll be ready for the take-down.

But first, a recap. (After all, knowing the enemy's tactics is key to success in battle.) In case you didn't read our own roundup of reviews after the show trailed in on the heels of the Olympics, here's what the Ref-bashing sounded like in 30 words or less: It's a heinous , abomination of a show, banking on Seinfeld fever and full of busybodying, misogynistic celebrities who don't know how to solve problems like real therapists do.

The show has been dragged through the muck and left to wither away in its second season. So why are millions of people still watching it? Now that the naysayers have had their moment, let the quiet (and perhaps shameful) have their moment. At the very least, it might come in handy in a Ref-style showdown on your own living room couch.

Truth is funnier than fiction: It's fun to see famous people in new situations, bantering between themselves. This is why we love awards shows like the Oscars, for this not-quite-so-staged glimpse into the world of the glitterati. How often do you get to see Madonna call Larry David a woman-hater? Or one of the Original Kings of Comedy call Martha Stewart a bad-ass through a stifled laugh? The show's funniest moments actually have little to do with the couples: it's the unscripted interactions of the panelists that follow in the footsteps of Seinfeld humor. It's Alec Baldwin advising that if a man is going to stuff his dog, he should do so only in "either a useful or attractive position." It's Ricky Gervais declaring how weird it is to "be here with you two," (in addition to being, simply, the weirdest show he's ever been on) and Tina Fey laughing hysterically at Jerry Seinfeld and seeming barely amused at Eva Longoria-Parker.

Misery loves company: Whether or not you'd describe your relationship using the title of a Stephen King novel, everyone appreciates a reminder that other people suffer too—it's called empathy. Blissful coupledom in the Nicolas Sparks vein just doesn't happen on a day-to-day basis. Have you ever listened to another couple argue and thought to yourself "Oh good, we're not horrible people." Have you ever found it humorous? This show is for you.

Reason trumps: Flawed logic is everywhere: on our screens, in our papers, and in the speeches and advertisements broadcast our way each day. Even at its whiniest moments, banter on the Marriage Ref shows that a well-articulated argument, presented with grace and, if possible, love, can lead to reconciliation. As Tina Fey said in Episode 3, "I like how this couple argues. I have hope for them." Regardless of the sometimes sloppy execution, it's a good message.

Try these on your beloved Marriage Ref haters. It might not get them to tune out Grey's Anatomy in the other room, but it may win you some points in the boxing ring. And if you've decided to live your life joined at the hip to someone else, you know full well that sparring matches are just part of the deal.

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Jennifer Ward Barber is an intern at TheAtlantic.com, where she helps produce the Atlantic Food Channel. Follow her on Twitter, or visit her site, Fresh Cracked Pepper, where she writes about food, life, and triathlon. More

Originally from Canada, Jennifer moved to the U.S. to study journalism at Syracuse University. She graduated with her MA from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications in June of 2009.
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