It's funny - this show started out as a kind of "Generic Sitcom", albeit with the in-laws playing a bigger role than the kids (a true rarity for a "Family Sitcom"). But after playing up the flaws of all the characters, things got funnier as they got more exaggerated and crabby.
Every character had something to offer, and even the outlandish situations still made some kind of perverted sense because the characters were so weird:
- Ray was great as a sarcastic, lazy ass who was used to being slaved over, was easily manipulated by his mother, and constantly whined to his wife.
- Robert's neuroses were kooky, and soon gave way to his sinister bitterness at Raymond- he's also the best character for physical comedy, and could get laughs just from his reaction shots.
- Frank as the cantankerous asshole was hilarious, and usually got the best lines. The way he'd verbally-abuse everybody or just make fun of everything was perfect.
- Marie is a tricky one to pull off (narcissistic, obsessive and controlling), but Doris Roberts really managed to make her be all that, but not entirely evil. After all, she does it out of love.
- Debra. Some people on this site just can't stop whining about her, as if the show made her out to be a sympathetic figure who was always right. I wonder what freaking show they were watching- Debra started out as Standard Sitcom Housewife #442, but eventually turned into a sarcastic, angry harpy who barely had a nice word for anyone, and the show called her on it. Her obvious self-superiority was played for laughs, as was the way she treated Ray (and get a grip people- you'd think Ray was sleeping at the neighbors' and hiding black eyes from the way people go on about her "abusiveness". If it were up to some types, comedy wouldn't exist at all- it'd just be people acting nicely to each other all the time). Debra got bitchier as time went on, and it always made the show funnier.
The best part was that they only occasionally
did the "Look They Really Love Each Other" thing- just enough to make you go "Awww", but not enough to make it gag-worthy. I think the show got funnier as it went on (Amy's weird family were perfect since they were all passive-aggressive instead of caustic like the Barones) as well. Not the greatest sitcom of all time, but a funny show nonetheless.