Ray Romano’s sitcom about family life in suburban New York deserves to sit alongside the US classics, says Tom Jenkins
Everybody Loves Raymond. Well, not everybody of course. A quick Internet search will reveal a cauldron of hatred for comedian Ray Romano’s hugely successful, semi-autobiographical sitcom, which ran for nine seasons between 1996 and 2005.
Perhaps it’s the simplicity of the premise: Ray is an Italian-American sports writer living in Long Island with his wife and three children; he lives opposite his overbearing mother and pig-headed father who naturally can’t keep their noses out of his affairs; he’s neurotic and insecure, a back seat parent perpetually haunted by his past as the high-school geek. His older brother Robert, a cop, is unlucky in love and jealous of Ray’s relatively stable family life, though much to Ray’s dismay, an excellent disco dancer.
Standard sitcom fodder then – the show’s even drawn disparaging comparisons with The Flintstones (how can that ever be a bad thing?) But it’s the quality of the performances from the likes of the late Peter Boyle (The Candidate, Taxi Driver) as Frank, and Emmy Award-winning Patricia Heaton as Ray’s long-suffering wife Deborah that makes Everybody Loves Raymond a classic. It deserves to sit alongside Cheers as one of the great American sitcoms.The humour is pitched somewhere between the vicious sarcasm of Roseanne and the sheer unbridled and joyful stupidity of Married With Children, both of which follow the dysfunctional family template. There’s real affection between the characters too, which isn’t just shoehorned in as it else elsewhere. I don’t mind admitting I’ve been close to tears on a couple of occasions.
Most importantly, it’s laugh out loud funny, in a similar vein to the first two seasons of Friends before it morphed into a hit and miss televisual comfort blanket, a side order to a hangover and a takeaway pizza. Maybe my humour isn’t that sophisticated: I’ve never watched an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm or Arrested Development; I don’t ‘get’ Seinfeld (perhaps it’ll suddenly ‘pop’ one day, like ears after a swim).
It’s not as cringe inducing or as clever as Frasier, but compared to the dross being pumped out of the big studios currently (Two and a Half Men? Don’t make me laugh… no seriously, you won’t), Everybody Loves Raymond stands as a bobbing buoy of genuine hilarity in a choppy ocean of cheap laughs. I cling to my box sets as if my life depended on it.
I love you Ray.