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Everybody Loves Raymond is an interesting show. It's the kind of show where the main cast has so much personality that when other characters arrive at the scene, they look almost out of place. The main five characters - Ray, Debra, Robert, Marie and Frank - are easily the most memorable sitcom characters ever.
The good stuff? There are some episodes that are just ingenious, with storylines that are either straightforward and work because of it, or complex and therefore a lot more interesting. The characters can be very funny. Ray's recognisable voice, Robert's deadpan quirkiness and Frank's random, sarcastic comments are often highly amusing, and Debra and Marie are okay... sometimes. It can often be very heartwarming, with episodes that really make you see these characters as real people with real problems. And when the kids get involved, it's even better. Though it's not really about the kids.
But holy crap, when it's bad, it's really bad. There are some episodes of this show where the main characters are either so stupid or so unlikable that it actually makes me stop watching, knowing where it's going to go. Ray can be an inconsiderate peabrain and often denies it. Debra can be extremely hotheaded (though I don't really blame her) to the point of female-on-male violence. Robert's dark jealousy of Ray is sometimes so bad that it's almost bullying, in many episodes laughing at Ray's misfortune, loving every second of it. But the worst two - Frank and Marie - are what make this show occasionally "unwatchable". Marie is honestly awful, a character who is, even in the good episodes, a nasty witch of a character. Her criticism of Debra are so uncalled for and so disgustingly exaggerated that it makes me wonder how Debra doesn't just divorce Ray in order to get away from it. And Frank, in some episodes, is such a disrespectful, angry and cruel man that you can even sympathize with Marie. I honestly cannot decide who is worse. Both Frank and Marie are demons with barely any heart. And sadly, few episodes feature Ray, Debra and Robert versus Frank and Marie. It's often Ray and Marie versus Debra and Robert, with Frank in the middle.
Overall, this is a decent show. It's often funny and even though many episodes repeat the same storylines, you'll want to know what happens, unless it gets too mean-spirited. When it does, shut it off.
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.
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:
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.
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