Sunday, September 21, 2014

Sunday Best: Sitcoms of All Time # 11 - Everybody Loves Raymond

Fourteen years ago, when Everybody Loves Raymond was running new episodes, I did not care for the show.  I didn't get it.

And then I got married.

After that, it all made sense.

One of the extraordinary things about the show is how much confidence it had in its own characters and its scenes.  Earlier I mentioned how Friends changed television by doing quick, snappy lines and fast scene changes throughout the 22 minutes.  Everybody Loves Raymond was intentionally the opposite.  A scene would play out over half an episode just in a kitchen.  When sitcoms were skewing younger, this show skewed older.  When shows were focusing on finding your place in the world, this show focused on a man who was the person he was always going to be.

I am always amazed by the patience the show had.  The funniest moment on the show is one that is just a reaction shot of Robert as an FBI agent finishes reading a letter from Marie:

The comedic actors also understood who they were and how to play their characters to maximum comedic effect.  Several awards were won and all of them well deserved.

As I wrote about Scrubs, what makes Everybody Loves Raymond so good is its element of truth.  Not every husband and father is an idiot, but every husband and father feels like an idiot.  Not every sibling have constant competition, but every sibling experiences a sense of competition.

This is not a new concept.  But in execution, Everybody Loves Raymond is fantastic.

And while the characters are still essentially the same from the beginning of the series to the end is not necessarily a bad thing.  Instead of change we get depth.  Marie is still Marie.  Her behavior does not change.  But by the end of the series, we understand her completely and we love her as much as we are infuriated by her.  Robert is still Robert.  Frank is still Frank.  Debra is still Debra.  Raymond is still Raymond.  There are microscopic changes, but the change is not the point.  It feels honest.  For many of us, as we get older, we don't see our parents or even our adult family members change.  But we begin to understand them more and appreciate them in a whole new light.  That is the deep truth that Everybody Loves Raymond hits.

As a Catholic, I enjoy that they took faith and religion a bit seriously.  No, the characters are not perfect Catholics (or in some cases even good Catholics).  But they are normal and are trying.  The priests are often very human with their own flaws, but ultimately they are good men who are trying to help.  The episode where they confront Ray about not going to Church, was handled with a lot of good humor and ultimately ends with him taking at least some responsibility to be a role model to his children.

(The one episode that is the most flagrantly anti-religious is the one where Amy tells her parents that she has decided what is and isn't a sin.  To this day that line goads me and makes me angry.)

"Marie's Meatballs" (2x15)

It took a while for the show to touch on anything really special.  There have been countless family sitcoms and for the first season and a half, so was Everybody Loves Raymond.  Slowly though, the show found its way.  This episode is where everything really begins to click, and it took quite a long time to get here.

In this episode, Debra asks Marie for her recipe for meatballs, and Debra fails to make them taste good, thus defeating her.  That is, until, she finds out Marie sabotaged her:
And yet, despite this Marie is not condemned as a caricatured villain.  She does what she does from a place of vulnerability, not malice.  It was here that you realize who these characters are and why, despite all of the hijinks, they love each other.



This is one of those rare shows that did not begin to fail in quality.  Looking back, the shows actually got better and better.  By the 9th season, the show was as strong as ever and could have gone on longer.  There was still so much comedy to mine as the children got older as well as the rest of the cast.  It was at the top of CBS' ratings, but it was decided that they wanted to go out before they jumped the shark.


"Golf For It"  (8x23)
I am in awe of this episode.

Nearly the entire episode takes place inside the front seats of a parked car without a commercial break.

This is an episode that is supremely confident in its writing and acting.  There isn't much to look at, so the conversation has to fly off of the screen.  And it does.  This episode is so wonderfully written as each beat comes up organically and it is also incredibly revelatory.  Watch as the scene goes from comedic to morbidly serious to emotional to comedic all in a beautifully harmonious way.  An amazing piece of writing.


There is something warm and familiar about Everybody Loves Raymond.  Watching it feels like going home.  And that is the best compliment that I can give a show like this.

(for the last clip, skip to 8:00 for the best part)

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Film Flash: The Maze Runner

15 words or less film review (full review to follow soon)

Cube meets Hunger Games.  Better than average teen dystopian future film.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Star S'Mores

All I can say is, that this video combines two of my favorite things:

It reminds of this joke from The Simpsons where Homer is standing in front of the video store clerk who says, "I'm sorry sir, but the computer says that the movie Chocolate Star Wars doesn't exist."

A Path With No Happy Ending

I have been struggling with something for a little while regarding how I approach something more and more common in the popular culture.

It is very rare to find a relationship depicted in television or film that coincides with God's plan for romantic love.  Most TV romances have the characters meet, fall in love, and then begin sharing their bodies with each other before they share their souls in the bonds of marriage.

Despite this, I still find myself emotionally investing in these relationships.  On The Big Bang Theory I want Penny and Leonard to work through their tough times.  I enjoyed watching Jim and Pam hide their pre-marital pregnancy from Michael Scott on The Office.  I recently rewatched The Silver Linings Playbook.  Bradley Cooper's character is a married man whose wife cheated on him.  He plans to reconcile with his unfaithful wife but begins to fall in love with Jennifer Lawrence's character.  In God's eyes, he should stick by his commitment to his wife.  Yet I could not help but feel a preference for his blossoming romance with the other woman.

So you can see that I find myself connecting to and rooting for these relationships despite their questionable moral state.  Yet that is not the issue at hand.  The main issue is this: though I find myself emotionally investing in these relationships I have never been able to do so for  homosexual ones.

The proliferation of gay characters and plot lines means that there are more and more romantic stories in the pop culture involving homosexual relationships.  And yet no matter how many times I have encountered them, I can never find myself being drawn into the story.

Why is this a problem?  Some of you might be thinking that since all sexual contact between two people of the same sex is always wrong, then the case is cut and dried.  But as I just wrote, I find myself emotionally tied to other romantic relationships that are also sinful.  Why am I tolerant of these and not the others?

I am not one to simply assume the goodness of my own motivations.  If the reason for my reaction is simple-minded homophobia, then that is a problem that I have a moral responsibility to address.  As Christians we are called to love and respect our brothers and sisters who have same-sex attractions.  Any illogical or close-minded view of them should be rooted out.

So the way I see it, there are 3 possibilities going forward.

1.  I have an unwanted homophobic prejudice that must be removed.
2.  I have been too tolerant of all sinful romantic relationships and the detachment I have to homosexual relationships should be applied to heterosexual sinful relationships.
3.  I must discover a real difference between the two types that can account for the different reactions.

As to the first, I shall examine my conscience on this matter.  Regarding these characters, I do not wish them ill or despise them because of their orientation.  I simply cannot root for their relationship to advance.  When I used to watch Modern Family I found that Cam was one of my favorite characters.  I enjoyed his personality and his humor.  But I had no desire to see he and Mitchell get "married."

As to the second, this bears a good deal of thought.  I have heard from many people I respect that the popular culture has essentially devolved into a cesspool of moral depravity.  Interacting with it leads to moral corruption.  I do not dismiss this point out of hand.  I have seen how corrosive pop culture can be and I should be arrogant to think that I alone am immune from its glamours.

I don't think the second scenario applies to me either, though.  I am emotionally tied to the relationships, but that does not stop me for acknowledging that any sex outside of marriage is wrong.  But I will be exploring this and other issues at length in a new feature on this blog (more on this later)

So this brings me to the third possibility: that there is a substantial difference between sinful heterosexual relationships I see and the homosexual ones.  And I think this one is the key.

I believed I figured it out when thinking about the movie Oldboy.  For those who haven't seen the movie, I am going to spoil it here.  I admit that I myself have not seen the movie either.  The reason I haven't is that I found out what the plot entailed and it turned my stomach.

In Oldboy, a young man is locked away in a private prison for several years by an unknown captor.  He is then mysteriously released back into the world where he tries discover the mystery of his imprisonment.  Along the way he meets a young woman who helps him and the two become lovers.  Over the course of the movie, he discovers that his imprisonment was part of an elaborate revenge plot which involved him starting a sexual relationship with the young woman who, it turned out, was his grown up daughter.

At the end of the movie, the main character undergoes hypnosis to forget that his lover is his daughter.  When she finds him, she embraces him and it is unclear whether the treatment worked.  I read somewhere that this meant that it was unclear if the movie would have a "happy ending."

And I remember thinking, "There is no happy ending here."  If he remembers, he will be haunted by his terrible sin.  If he does not, he will persist in this relationship that goes against the human designs of sexuality.

This is when I think I finally understood the difference between all of those sinful relationships I do invest in and those that I do not: redeemability.

If a straight couple is fornicating with each other, this is obviously sinful.  But this romantic love can be redeemed by the two of them getting married.  It does not mean the fornication wasn't sinful, only that now their physical relationship can now be expressed in a moral way.  Recently Pope Francis married a couple in the Vatican that had been "living in sin."

If a divorced couple gets remarried, in the eyes of God that is still adultery.  But if they seek the processes of annulment and obtain it, they can express their physical love in a licit marriage.

Most of the heterosexual relationships with moral problems that I see on TV have the potential to be placed right.

But that is not the case with homosexual romantic relationships.

As a faithful Catholic I hold to the moral truth that sexual intimacy is only for marriage and that marriage is only for man and woman.  The Church does not teach that there is anything wrong with two people of the same sex sharing affection, friendship, or self-sacrificing love for one another.  But romantic love has as its ultimate endpoint a union between the lovers that involves the sharing of bodies.  And this sharing can never be in line with God's plan of human sexuality.

So when I see a gay romance begin to blossom, I am filled with a sense of sadness more than anything.  Because these two are going to burn with the same intense romantic flames that singe the hearts of so many.  But if they continue down that path, there is no place where they can end happily.  There is no point at which this romantic love can be made licit.

In this way it reminds me of the end of Oldboy: to continue forward would be to go against God's plan and thus go further away from our natural happiness.

I pray I have expressed my conclusion with sufficient logic and tenderness.  My experiences with many of my gay friends is that they feel like they are shunned and alienated from God and the Church.  God forbid that we should be anything but loving towards all, gay or straight.

But we can only love in truth.  We do no one any favors by exchanging the truth of God for a lie.  If I believed that someone could live an active homosexual lifestyle and find true happiness, then Christianity would be a lie and I could not believe in the faith any longer.

Regarding the morally problematic heterosexual relationships discussed above, just because they can be redeemed, it doesn't mean that they will be redeemed.  If, for example, a couple persists in a fornicating state permanently, then they choose not to redeem that romantic love.  They choose to walk down a path away from God's plan.

And the truth is that any path that leads you away from God will lead you to a place with no happy ending.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

New Evangelizers Post: No Prayer Too Small

I have a new article up at

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.  Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding.  When the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” [And] Jesus said to her, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:1-5)

There are many lessons to take from Christ’s first sign at Cana.  But there is one particular part that I think should be addressed.  Notice that the first miracle that Jesus performed was not one of healing or one of glorious light like the Transfiguration.  

Jesus made more booze.

Would the world have ended if they ran out of wine?  No.  Would someone have died or lost their soul if they didn't have any more adult beverages?  Again, no.

So why does Jesus go out of His way to help out with, what was essentially, was just a big party?
I think it is to remind us that the little things must also be given to the Lord.

You can read the entire article here.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Trailer Time: Hunger Games - Mockingjay Part I Full Trailer

I've really enjoyed the teasers that they've released so far, but I this full trailer is great.  It shows how this chapter of The Hunger Games is different than all the ones that have come before it.  This is a war movie.  It looks different than anything before.

My favorite moment, though, has to be the brief 1-second shot of Effie Trinket.  So much said in such a little shot.

I think I'm going to be there opening night.


Fall-Winter Movie Season 2014

Now that Summer Movie Season is over, its time to turn to the upcoming Fall-Winter movies.  This is the time usually when the "important" movies come out.  The reason being that studios want Academy and other awards groups to have their movies fresh in voters minds.

Lately, however, some studios realized that this is a good time to release a big blockbuster because there is less competition, even though more people are home watching television.

Here is a list, with a few brief thoughts of my own, including on a scale of 1-5 stars my likelihood of seeing it in theaters (1 being “Not at all” 5 being “Cannot wait!”).

So here are some of the movies that are coming out along with my level of excitement.

September 19

The Maze Runner - I find the trailer incredibly intriguing and I think I'm going to see this one in the theater if I can (****)

This is Where I Leave You - This could be better than typical dysfunctional family movies, but I find that Jason Bateman and Tina Fey movies tend to disappoint (***)

A Walk Among the Tombstones - I think "Liam Neeson Kills a Bunch of Bad Guys in Horrible, Horrible Ways" is becoming its own genre of film.  I'm curious (***)

Tusk - Looks like Clerks meets The Human Centipede.  No thank you (*)

Hector and the Search For Happiness - I like the look of this film and it reminds me of the previews I saw for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.  I just hope its better than the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (***)

September 26

The Equalizer - It looks like Denzel is trying to encroach on Liam territory.  And the trailers look like he pulled it off (****)

The Boxtrolls - I want to get excited about this, but it looks like a cheap Monsters Inc.

October 3

Gone Girl - I'm not sure why, but the trailers have me so intrigued.  And Affleck is currently in the full bloom of his Ben-aissance.  I'm there opening night (*****)

October 10

The Judge - I like the cast and the plot, but I get the sneaking feeling that this is going to be a cliche'd mess.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day - I don't know the source material, so I think I'll wait on this one.  (**)

Dracula Untold - This feels like a SyFy movie with a big(ger) budget. (**)

Whipplash - I'm sure he's a lovely person, but I really don't like Miles Teller.  And I don't care for Jazz, so there isn't a big draw for me here in this story about a struggling Jazz drumming student.  (*)

Kill the Messenger - I like Jeremy Renner, but Iran-Contra doesn't feel like a pressing dramatic issue (**)

Christian Mingle - Honestly, I can't tell if this is going to be any good, but it doesn't look like it mocks people of faith, and that alone has me curious.
October 17

Fury - This could be good despite it having Shia LeBouf, but I'm in no hurry to see it (***)

The Best of Me - Another Nicholas Sparks novel turned movie.  Expect a high body count (*)

Birdman - This could either be very good or very bad, but I'm pulling for Michael Keaton to make a big comeback (**)

Kingsman: The Secret Service - This feels like Kick Ass but in England.  Not a big selling point (**)

White Bird in a Blizzard - A title this pretentious is rarely seen outside of France (*)

St. Vincent - I like Bill Murray, but this looks like nothing special (**)

October 31

Nightcrawler - Unfortunately this is not a movie about one of my favorite X-Men, but it is a movie about a creepy news reporter starring a creepy Jake Gyllenhal (*)

November 7

Interstellar - Christopher Nolan has not made a bad movie and I found the trailers enthralling. (*****)

Big Hero 6 - Disney's digital studios have grown up a lot in the last few years and this is brought to us by Marvel who has a great cinematic track record (****)

The Theory of Everything - This is pure Oscar-bait and I can't wait to see it (****)

November 14

Foxcatcher - I love Steve Carrel, but I can't get my head around this one (***)

Dumb and Dumber To - The previous film does not hold a special place in my heart like it does for so many others.  The actors feel old and so do the jokes (**)

November 21

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 - I thought the last 2 movies were very good, so I will be there opening night (*****)

The Imitation Game - I know the history behind this story and it is very sad.  I might wait for Netflix (**)

November 28

Horrible Bosses 2 - The first one was fairly decent.  I might check this one out too, but I can wait to watch it at home (***)

Penguins of Madagascar - These guys are the best thing about the Madagascar movies.  I'd be curious to see if they could hold a movie all on their own (***)

December 12

Exodus: Gods and Kings - If Ridley Scott can bring the same intesity that he brought to Gladiator, then this could be all kinds of awesome (****)

December 19

The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies - I am so excited to see this.  I can't wait to see all of the heartbreakingly powerful parts of the book come to life (*****)

Annie - Probably the biggest rift in my marriage is the dissagreement my wife and I have over Annie.  But this remake looks pretty good (**)

A Night At The Museum: Secret of the Tomb - I enjoyed the first two... at home.  This one will be no different (**)