HBO // 1996 // 538 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Sandra Dozier (Retired) // October 13th, 2004
"It never ends for Raymond. Everybody loves Raymond!" -- older brother Robert (Brad Garrett), grousing about Raymond's success as a sports writer
Every once in a while, a sweet, funny sitcom comes along that demands nothing from the audience other than that they have a good time. Enjoying Everybody Loves Raymond does not require you to have a weird sense of humor, a knowledge of Long Island (where the show is set), or even an empathy for or understanding of parenthood, even though the title character has three children. The humor works because it is simple, everyday humor that anyone who craves the company of other humans (whether that includes a family unit or not) can relate to.
Ray Barone (played by standup comedian Ray Romano) is a lucky, lucky man. He has a beautiful wife, three lovely children, an exciting job as a sports writer, and a house in Long Island, NY. He lives across the street from his parents (that's right) and his brother Robert (Brad Garrett), who moved into their basement after divorcing his wife.
The family drops by often; so much so, in fact, that knocking on the door is a formality they no longer observe. Raymond's mother (Doris Roberts) is quite the cook, and is often bringing over dishes of food for them to eat (especially if she smells something "questionable" in the fridge) or insisting that Raymond eat dinner at her house even if he's expected by his wife, Debra. His father (Peter Boyle) is a bit of an eccentric, who likes to unbuckle his pants when he sits down to watch the television, doesn't think twice about waking up the kids if he wants to say hello, and likes to crack the code on Ray's answering machine so he can listen to their messages. Older brother Robert doesn't think much of Ray's successes in life...he doesn't understand why Ray gets all the breaks when he has to deal with getting shot at when he goes to work (Robert is a policeman).
Ray's wife Debra (Patricia Heaton) is his patient and faithful companion, weathering the constant intrusions from his family, looking after their three young kids, and keeping the house running smoothly, making sure that Raymond is well taken care of. She is whip smart and has a low tolerance for tomfoolery, something Ray hasn't quite figured out how to deal with -- he often ends up hanging himself as he backpedals out of the latest thorny situation.
But, in true TV Land fashion, nothing is left unresolved by the end of the episode, and what matters is family and the bonds you make with them. All others can take a hike.
One might go into Everybody Loves Raymond expecting a Full House type of experience. After all, with three adorable little kids, it's almost guaranteed that there will be lots of little-kid humor and the camera will be focusing on them making cute expressions, doing cute things, and so on. But, as Raymond says in the opening credits, "It's not really about the kids." The kids in this series give meaning to the lives of the parents, who are often in chaotic and precarious situations. If anything, the kids ground the parents, and that is a refreshing take on family that is probably one of the most endearing things about this show. When daughter Ally (Madylin Sweeten) does come on screen, it's genuinely cute, not "look how cute I am!" cute.
This is a clue as to why Everybody Loves Raymond has lasted eight seasons. Within the sitcom format, which really doesn't allow much wiggle room, the creators and producers have found a way to keep things fresh and interesting. Although the shows started out including much of the material from Romano's stage act, that soon went by the wayside, and the episodes found their own voice, as well as a winning blend of humor that producer Philip Rosenthal contributed to heavily. There is a beautiful, hilarious scene in the pilot episode that comes straight from his own experience, and is probably the signature laugh-out-loud scene from the first season. Ray gives his parents Fruit of the Month as a gift and is confronted by his mother, who doesn't understand why she got so many pears. She can buy pears at the market! What, there's going to be more fruit next month? What is this, a cult?! The conversation escalates to include the father and becomes totally silly, yet completely believable -- who hasn't had this moment with their parents, where some well-meant gesture is completely and utterly misunderstood? This type of scene blends seamlessly with the more low-key touches such as the father's wanting to smell the heads of the twins for the "fountain of youth" effect their baby smell gives him (a real-life quirk of Romano's own father).
The focus on family is often kooky, often touching. It's the family people simultaneously wish they had and feel relieved that they don't have, all at once. For all Debra's grousing about how often the parents and brother come over, they are the first ones on the scene if someone is sick or in need of help. Alternately, they are also the first ones on the scene if the shower breaks or they run out of food. Even the formula humor never gets tired: It doesn't matter how many times they do a scene where the family breezes through, eating their food, throwing away "questionable" items (which are actually fresh), dispensing advice about child rearing, waking their children up from a sound sleep, and generally leaving a trail of destruction behind them -- it's always funny.
Also always-funny is the character of Raymond's brother. As Romano and Rosenthal will point out in the commentary, the man just has to say one line to get the audience laughing. It's the "Eeyore essence" of the guy, or perhaps the hilarious way that he has to touch food to his chin before he eats it. That deep, regretful voice and his hangdog looks of resentment toward Raymond are priceless. Garrett, being a tall and powerfully built man, was originally considered not quite the right fit for the role, since Raymond's real-life brother is shorter and leaner. However, his hulking frame soon became an advantage, since he could lord his physical superiority over Raymond and neatly avoid the trap of being a truly pathetic character. At one point, he and Ray are grappling over an item, doing the hand-over-hand playground trick ("If I grab the top, it's mine!"). But when Ray grabs the top, Robert looks at him for a beat, then just pulls the object toward him, sliding the fully grown Raymond across the floor as if he were no heavier than a pillow. BIG laughs.
This DVD set was my first introduction to Everybody Loves Raymond, and I could kick myself for avoiding the show all this time. I figured it would be the same old same old -- even the presence of the lovely and reliably excellent Doris Roberts could not entice me. I am delighted to be wrong.
This is one of the better boxed sets I have seen for a TV show. The packaging is sturdy and folds out attractively, with a laminated surface and plenty of cast pictures. The clear plastic disc holders inside hold the DVDs firmly but accessibly. As far as extras, the entire Late Night with David Letterman segment that originally got Romano recognized and that served as the springboard for the show is included. Here fans will see the seeds for some of the early humor of the show. Also excellent are the three featurettes, which chronicle the early days of getting the show together, casting the family members, and getting it on the air. Not surprisingly, the network didn't know quite what to make of the show, and was nervous about trusting the lead role to someone who had never acted before. It's an interesting peek behind the scenes that may be partially a review for devoted fans (especially when Romano talks about not liking the title name) but otherwise provides an excellent retrospective of what it took to get the series off the ground. The scene-specific commentaries for the pilot and for the final episode of the season are gold -- producer Rosenthal and creator Romano talk about their inspiration for the humor of the series, the way both the jokes and the characters evolved, and how they feel about the way Season One ended. It's especially interesting to hear all the tricks they used to disguise the very pregnant Patricia Heaton, who used no padding in the final episode where she is shown (in flashback) with an enormous belly as she and Raymond are shopping for a new home now that they are expecting twins.
Video and sound quality for the episode transfers is excellent. The colors are bright and crisp, and the picture is clear and defect-free. Sound quality is robust and clear, suffering only slightly by the sometimes too-high mix of audience laughter. Otherwise, sound is even and balanced, requiring very few (if any) adjustments with the volume control during louder scenes.
Really, there's not much to complain about here. There's not even an easy-to-lose paper insert with episode titles; they're printed right on the box.
In one episode, Debra tells Ray that he never says "I love you." He says that he does, and all the time. "When?" she demands. "With my eeeeeyyyyyyes!" he insists, making married women everywhere either do that funny little groaning laugh that only married women can do (everyone else just laughs the regular way). This, and the scene later on where Debra laughs at him when he does manage to say it, is the essence of Everybody Loves Raymond, a fine show that deserves all the attention it can get.
The long-suffering Raymond and Debra are free to go, with the court's blessing.
Review content copyright © 2004 Sandra Dozier; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 538 Minutes
Release Year: 1996
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Romano's Appearance on Letterman
* Audio Commentary for Pilot Episode and "Why Are We Here?"
* "How We Got Here" Featurette
* "Casting the Family" Featurette
* "On the Air" Featurette
* Official Site
* TV Tome Reference