I admit I came to The Marriage Ref, after seeing the commercials, kind of dreading it, thinking it was going to be a pre-fabricated affair, with funny lines fed to the celebrity judges by show creator Jerry Seinfeld and his staff. For all I know, that may be the case, but there was an undeniable spontaneity not only among the premiere’s guest judges — Alec Baldwin, Kelly Ripa, and Seinfeld — but also during the taped segments featuring the couples who provided the arguments. Granted, my defenses were weakened by the mind-blowing Olympics finale that included William Shatner spouting Dadaist poetry, but I thought The Marriage Ref was silly fun.

Hosted by Tom Papa, an excellent stand-up comic (he killed on a recent David Letterman), The Marriage Ref is just what you’ve seen in the ads. We and the judges watched tape of a couple’s outlandish argument, and Papa referees the dispute by concluding, “I’m ready to make the call!”

The two spats this week were about a husband who wanted to keep his dead stuffed dog around the house, and another husband who wanted to install a stripper pole in his house. In both cases, the wife was the voice of vehement common sense. There wasn’t much tension over which way Papa would go in his decisions, but then, that’s not the point of the show.

The Marriage Ref exists to permit the celebrity judges to comment amusingly on the cases to be adjudicated. Baldwin and Ripa seemed to be having fun winging the zingers; if anything, they made Seinfeld’s comments seem mild. I can’t say as I laughed out loud, but the half-hour — a showcase for the hour-long edition slated to debut on NBC this Thursday at 10 p.m. — moved along briskly.

Natalie Morales, usually employed as an NBC news correspondent, was used here to offer “Just The Facts” about the subjects under discussion. Far from being dismayed that a TV-news person would agree to sit onstage trolling Google for factoids about how using a stripper pole “burns 250 calories an hour,” I applaud Morales for showing both a sense of humor and the simple truth about TV-news readers — i.e., these people aren’t exactly investigative journalists.

The future of The Marriage Ref? I wonder if it can sustain its joking for a full hour come Thursday night. But I’m also curious to see the edition that has Madonna and Larry David yelling maniacally. Taken on its own terms, as non-scripted entertainment, Ref is at the very least more fun than American Idol is these days.

What did you think?

Follow @kentucker