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)

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