Even Seinfeld's co-writer fails to see funny side of his TV comeback

A beautiful friendship began when the comedian Larry David met Jerry Seinfeld two decades ago and the pair dreamed up a winning idea for a television show.

So when a chorus of critics rounded on the latter's latest endeavour, he might have expected his friend and Seinfeld collaborator to rush to his defence after being invited to participate as a guest panellist. Instead, David appeared to echo the sentiment of critics who have branded Seinfeld's new show "pointless" and "painful".

Appearing before a national audience on The Marriage Ref, Seinfeld's reality TV series in which guest stars are invited to comment on the marital problems of ordinary couples, David discussed the problems faced by some couples – including one in which a husband disapproved of his wife keeping a 5ft iguana in the house. He said: "Can we wrap this up? I have to go to the bathroom," and later questioned the show's format: "What is the point to the whole thing?"

Directing his comments at another couple, he added: "This is insane. They're so moronic, I don't want to help them." Later, he said exasperatedly: "This is easily the most uncomfortable hour I've ever spent in my life."

Taking part in the same show, the British comedian Ricky Gervais and singer Madonna were no less equivocal, with the former stating on air: "This is a strange programme. I feel like someone's put crack in my drink. What's going on? This is the weirdest show I've ever been on. It's weird that I'm here with you two." Madonna later chipped in: "Why are we on television?"

An on-air vote of confidence from David may well have transformed the flagging fortunes of Seinfeld's NBC comeback show, the first he has co-created since making Seinfeld. David is now by far the more successful of the pair. His show, Curb Your Enthusiasm has made him one of America's foremost TV writers and comedians.

For Seinfeld, the golden boy of 1990s television, it is a long way to have fallen since he first starred in his eponymous television show in 1989. By the time the series finished in 1998, he could do nothing wrong. But his critics would say he has done little right since. He has been involved in a documentary, written a few books and produced the animated film, Bee Movie.

The Marriage Ref was previewed to a captive audience after the closing ceremony of the Winter Olympics last month. Judging by the reaction, NBC might be wishing the launch had been a little more low-key.

Time magazine's called it "the most God-awful mishmash of a comedy-variety show". The Baltimore Sun said the programme didn't deserve the Thursday night prime-time slot that NBC has reserved for it. "Who knew Seinfeld could be this unfunny?

Seinfeld came up with the idea during a row with his wife Jessica in the presence of a friend. They persuaded the friend to act as a referee, at the end of which Jessica proclaimed: "That's a TV show." Based on the reaction to the finished product, he may be regretting following his wife's advice.

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