For a very long time, we in Britain associated "American television sitcom" with "crap", and for good strong reasons. Anything the BBC or ITV bought in was, with one or two exceptions, just cheap filler. Shows written by committee, where flimsy hackneyed plots offered the cast members an opportunity to over-act wildly, gurn at the camera, and to step forward in turn, do a one-liner, and step back again.
It took a long time to realise the USA had moved on, and its very best sitcoms were now of such a stellar standard that they were beginning to make our home-grown variety (so good in the 1970's) look old, tired and stale. This is one of the best. Fortunately, Channel Four repeats this series, in episode order, from pilot to last, on a never-ending loop, so it wasn't too hard to get into it.
And what can you say? It's dom-com. It doesn't pretend to be any more than that. But there's so much scope within a seemingly dysfunctional family. Which became a network of three seemingly dysfunctional families - the Whelans and the McDougalls as well as the Barones. The show is a perfect combination of great scripts, great acting and perfect casting. A sitcom needs those three elements to work - witness the way successor show "King of Queens
" is predicated on a similar set-up, is potentially every bit as good, but somehow falls flatter and subtly misses the notes, even with input from the ELR cast doing cameos.
Patricia Heaton can steal a scene by just standing there, looking impassive, but letting her body language do all the talking. Monica Horan's "killer hamster" death glare whenever Brad Garrett does something crass is truly scary. especially when she has to stand on a chair to glare into his eyes. (Brad's physical size can only be played for comedy - especially when he cringes for fear of his wife, mother or sister-in-law). Marie Barone is the living proof that a Jewish mother does not have to be Jewish - Catholic mothers of certain ethnicities (in this case Italian) are their spiritual sisters. The looming presence of the überboor Frank. Walk-ons like Amy's devout parents. Peggy The Cookie Nazi. Even the occasional characters are perfectly drawn. And through it all - Ray. Lazy, clumsy, inarticulate, a spoilt but loveable brat for whom every day is a reality check.
Simply sit-com perfection. It went out at the top.