HBO // 1997 // 750 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Amanda DeWees (Retired) // January 5th, 2005
Ray (to his daughter): All right, Ally, you have to do what Mommy says.
Ray: 'Cause I do.
Everybody Loves Raymond is something of a paradox among today's network fare: an outstanding show whose appeal is hard to sum up in a sound byte. Its premise doesn't have an immediately catchy hook or gimmick: It's basically a show about a guy and his family. Try to persuade an acquaintance of the considerable merits of this comedy and you'll find yourself falling back on claims like "It's a very funny show about a very funny guy and his very funny family." This gets you nowhere (as I have found). What's less tricky to describe, however, is the show's writing, direction, and cast, which are all top-notch. For those who say "who?" to the name Ray Romano (although their numbers are probably shrinking with every successive season of this hit series), you can point to comedy veterans like Peter Boyle (Young Frankenstein) and Doris Roberts, and brilliant comedian-cum-character actor Brad Garrett (Suicide Kings), who all bring their considerable talents to the ensemble that makes up the heart of the series.
For those who may have found the premise unprepossessing and haven't yet realized what an enjoyable show this is, the second season of Everybody Loves Raymond is a great place to start watching. By this season, the show has really gelled: Now that the characters have been established, the writers are free to take full advantage of the unique chemistry of the stellar cast and find new ways to make the series stand apart from other sitcoms. And stand out it does.
Raymond Barone's life in Long Island with his feisty, beautiful wife Debra (Patricia Heaton) and his three adorable children ought to be idyllic. But with his suffocating mother, Marie (Doris Roberts), and cantankerous father, Frank (Peter Boyle), right across the street -- and constantly erupting into his own living room -- domestic life is often less than peaceful. Add a jealous, insecure older brother, Robert (Brad Garrett), who's still living with their parents, and it's no wonder that sometimes Ray (Ray Romano, Welcome to Mooseport) seems to be trapped between childhood and being the father to his own brood. What with trying to avoid emotional scenes and keep everyone more or less off each other's back (or at least off his), Ray sometimes gets himself up to the eyeballs in trouble. But sooner or later everyone grudgingly forgives him, because -- nag at him though they may -- everybody loves Raymond.
Everybody Loves Raymond has spoiled me. I've been watching and enjoying the show for so long in syndication that I've taken for granted the special charms that make it unique and even daring in the sitcom world. Take the fact that each episode focuses on only one story line, instead of lacing the action with a subplot or two to give the writers and actors a break. It's a structure that you almost never see in other sitcoms, and yet it never jumped out at me while watching Raymond. But I think that's part of the show's success: Its creators know that these characters and their interactions are worth a long, sustained look, uninterrupted by side issues. It's part of the illusion that we're watching a real family. The characters' issues and hangups are all recognizable; we may not all have jealous siblings, fathers who unbuckle their pants after a big meal, or smothering mothers who shower food on us as a form of love (and blackmail), but we almost certainly know someone who does. And if we don't -- well, we can certainly empathize with Debra, who frequently finds herself staring at these people in disbelief. The five characters who make up the heart of the Raymond universe, unlike so many sitcom characters, are only slightly exaggerated versions of real people.
It took the commentary track on the episode called "The Letter" to wake me up to the care with which this show is crafted -- care that results in an end product that seems effortless and natural. This standout episode is a turning point for the season and, by extension, the series: As show creator Phil Rosenthal notes in his commentary, in this episode they realized that they could do fewer and longer scenes, allowing the family interactions in particular to unfold like a play. Raymond thus avoids the frenetic pace that many sitcoms employ to create laughs; indeed, sometimes the opposite occurs, and the show takes time to allow conversations to drift into the irrelevant tangents they take in real life, which naturally makes them even funnier. In "The Letter," for example, Debra has written a letter to Marie that airs her feelings about Marie's interference. Eager to prevent the family ruction he knows this will bring about, Ray makes a beeline over to his parents' house to try to intercept the letter. His simple question to his father about whether the mail has arrived leads to the necessity of a plausible lie -- which gets far out of hand as his father seizes upon it:
Ray: Sometimes we might get something [in the mail] of yours, and you
might get something of ours.
Frank: What do you get of mine?
Ray: I don't know, just junk mail.
Frank: Like what?
Ray: Whatever -- flyers and coupons.
Frank: Where are they?
Ray: I just...I throw them out.
Frank: You throw out coupons? That's money!
Ray: Look, all I'm saying is...
Marie: Well, how much were the coupons for?
Ray: I don't know!
Frank: Jeezaloo! Did you get the one for carpet cleaning? That's a ten-dollar coupon!
Besides "The Letter," there are many standout episodes in this season. The other episode that features a commentary, "Good Girls," is a sitcom masterpiece: Ray finds out that Marie likes Robert's girlfriend Amy better than Debra because she is a "good girl" (Marie, of course, won't say the word "virgin"), and Ray immediately conspires to make Debra competitive in this respect. The brothers' bizarre competition comes to a head in an outstanding scene that drops some truly astonishing bombshells about the Barone family. Other superior entries include "Civil War," in which Frank's involvement in a battle reenactment leads to more sibling rivalry and some surprising insight into Frank's relationship with his own father, and "The Gift," which sees Ray trying to outdo Robert's birthday gift to Frank -- and follows up on the Season One fruit-of-the-month debacle. "Marie's Meatballs" forces Marie to recognize the way she uses her cooking to hold onto Ray -- while she resorts to sabotage to keep Debra's cooking from becoming a threat to her.
As even this brief list shows, many of the most enjoyable episodes of this season stand out by combining comedy with insight into what makes these lovably flawed characters tick. The two-part season ender, the terrific "The Wedding," is another example of this strong combination, as it looks back on Ray's proposal to Debra and his anxieties leading up to their wedding. This winning story captures the hapless Ray's endearing qualities as well as his tendency to complicate everything: He's worried that Debra accepted his proposal for reasons other than love, and so he keeps trying to give her a chance to back out. Debra, thinking he has cold feet, responds with the exasperation that Ray so often evokes in her. The wedding ceremony itself is both sweet and funny in a way that few sitcom weddings manage to pull off -- and the episode ends with a genuinely surprising revelation that turns our response to the wedding scene on its head. Episodes like this one show a caliber of writing and acting that few other television comedies attain. Other episodes capitalize on our familiarity with the characters by presenting them in unexpected ways, to humorous effect -- as when the visit of an Italian relative evokes unprecedented family harmony in "Mia Famiglia." (Naturally, it doesn't last.)
The superlative cast is in top form in this season. Peter Boyle could simply stand in front of a camera for 22 minutes in silence and make me laugh, and he and Doris Roberts make a believable couple whose constant bickering seems somehow to make their relationship work. Heaton and Romano also bring the tang of realism to their marriage; their grousing and even roughhousing make them a more realistic married couple than if they hugged all the time. And Brad Garrett gets to stretch a little this season in his role as Ray's brother Robert, one of my favorite characters. He's still as doleful as ever -- with those basset-hound eyes and that voice that makes you think of a melancholy grizzly bear -- but this year he has a girlfriend to ease his gloom somewhat: the sweet but easily overwhelmed Amy (well played by Monica Horan, wife of Phil Rosenthal), whose inexperience with the tortuous family dynamics of the Barones points up by contrast just how outrageous they can be. (There's a wonderful moment in "Good Girls" when a dismayed Debra recognizes in Amy her former self -- herself, that is, before she became "one of them.") Robert also gets to shine in "The Ride-Along," in which Ray (and the audience) gains new respect for his brother when he sees him take down a gunman, and Garrett proves he can really bust a move by showing off some Michael Jackson-style dance steps in "High School." Garrett also gets some effective emotional scenes in the episode "Brother," in which Robert and Ray do some belated bonding, and in "Traffic School" Robert memorably uses a ventriloquist's dummy to vent his true feelings about his family. (This episode also features one of the funniest visual jokes of the season, courtesy of the dummy; I'll only say that the little wooden guy comes to an unfortunate end.)
This boxed set is enhanced by a nice set of extras. The commentaries by Romano and Rosenthal on "The Letter" and "Good Girls" gave me new appreciation, as I noted above, for the way the episodes are developed and constructed. Their commentaries are both informative and entertaining, the ideal combination. The blooper reel, which clocks in at a substantial 16:45, contains even more goodies than the standard amusing gaffes; we get to see one of the show's opening sequences dubbed into French, and there are lots of improvisations by Romano (sometimes an entire series of them, which goes a long way toward explaining why many of his lines feel fresh and unstudied -- evidently many of them are). The reel ends with a three-minute musical montage that salutes the season's guest stars and allows the behind-the-scenes staff and crew some screen time. My hands-down favorite part of the gag reel, however, is definitely Brad Garrett's Herman Munster impersonation. The sequence of deleted scenes is also nicely substantial at 14 minutes and shows some excellent material that was cut either to shorten running time or to end scenes more strongly.
The transfer's visual quality is strong, with bold color and a crisp picture. The surround audio track renders both the main theme and the dialogue with handsome clarity, and the immersiveness is very pleasing, enhancing the immediacy of the action. The music and laugh track are sometimes mixed a little louder than the dialogue, and the menu volume is slightly too loud for comfort, but these issues don't really interfere with enjoyment of the show. Overall this is a very fine TV-to-DVD transfer. The design of the menus is a smidgen annoying, since the same couple of dialogue clips play on the menu of every single disc, but this is the only thing I would consider a real weakness in the entire package.
Everybody Loves Raymond: The Complete Second Season is a must for fans of the series, and it will doubtless convert many fans-to-be. The nifty fold-out packaging, which snaps into its own box, and the attractive extras are just icing on the cake...or on the lasagna, as the case may be.
No matter how much trouble he may unwittingly cause, the court doesn't have the heart to convict Raymond. Considering the mitigating circumstances represented by his parents, the court has no choice but to release him until the next season's boxed set appears.
Review content copyright © 2005 Amanda DeWees; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 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: 750 Minutes
Release Year: 1997
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Commentaries on Two Episodes by Actor Ray Romano and Series Creator Phil Rosenthal
* Blooper Reel
* Deleted Scenes
* Official Site
* TV Tome Page
* DVD Verdict Review of Season 1