The XX Factor

The “Marriage Ref” Makes Tina Fey Unfunny

The first hourlong episode of the Jerry Seinfeld-created show The Marriage Ref ran last night with special guests Tina Fey and Eva Longoria, and boy, was that an endless 60 minutes. NBC aired a 30-minute long preview version of the show last Sunday, and Entertainment Weekly ‘s Ken Tucker thought that was a better fit for this format-the show runs videos of couples’ spats, and then three celebrities comment on the fight before voting for the husband or the wife as the “right” one. I must disagree with Tucker. Regardless of length, the premise of the show is unappealing.

In the Nora Ephron book Heartburn (which, of course, is about a marriage falling apart) the heroine talks about how she loved the everydayness of being married-deciding what to eat for dinner and picking out socks and figuring out who’s taking junior to day care. While this is certainly the stuff that good marriages are made of, its details are a snooze. Even the couple living through it sometimes finds it tedious and passionless to the point of being soul-killing, which can explain why some people have affairs (as it does in the book Heartburn ). To build a show around the quotidian arguments of “normal” couples, when I’m sure the couples themselves find an ongoing argument about flossing in bed boring, is a phenomenally bad idea.

As EW ‘s Tucker wrote, guest commentators Longoria and Fey, “passed judgments without seeming to really care one way or the other. And why should they?” The stakes are pretty low when you’re deciding who’s right in a fight over table settings. But the saddest part of The Marriage Ref is that it managed to suck the humor out of Tina Fey. One of the best parts of her comedic persona is what Fey calls her dash of “high-school bitchy.” The Marriage Ref is not meant to be edgy, it’s meant to be sweet, so Fey was effectively defanged. Watching her force laughs at Eva Longoria’s lame jokes made that long hour almost unbearable.

Photograph of Tina Fey by Robyn Beck/AFP.