Sometimes the greatest success can come from the simplest of ideas, and so it proved with Everybody Loves Raymond, a runaway CBS success for stand-up comedian Ray Romano that won multiple awards over nine successful seasons up until its finale in 2005.
Romano plays Ray Barone, a sports writer for Newsday. He is at best old fashioned in his ways. While not openly chauvinistic, he does feel that after a day at work, he should be able to come home to a prepared meal, kids that are ready for bed and a wife that will allow him the freedom to vegetate in front of the television or go golfing with his friends rather than go out as a couple, help around the house or heaven forbid, put the kids to bed.
Unfortunately for Ray, wife Debra (Patricia Heaton) doesn’t feel the same way. While she accepts that Ray is the breadwinner, she resents the fact that he doesn’t help with the house or the kids, nor does he seemingly acknowledge the challenge of raising three children in a happy, clean environment.
Fortunately and at the same time unfortunately, help is at hand for Ray. The desire to pamper him is seemingly the sole driver for Ray’s mother Marie (Doris Roberts), who lives across the street with Ray’s father Frank (Peter Boyle). Marie believes that she should still be ensuring that her seemingly favourite son can only be fully cared for by a loving mother, and she spends as much time in Ray and Debra’s home as she does in her own, continually undermining Debra’s cooking skills and abilities around the house and raising the children. Frank meanwhile is a gruffer version of Ray. He too believes his spouse’s role is to wait on him hand and foot, allowing him to enjoy his retirement by watching ball games and spending time with his friends at ‘the Lodge.’ He can frequently be heard yelling, ‘Marie – eggs’ as he demands food to be brought forthwith.
Thrown into the mix is Ray’s older brother, Robert (Brad Garrett). A physical giant, Robert works in the police force, but is obsessed by the fact that ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ and that the world seemingly revolves around his younger brother. While Ray seems to have the ideal job, loving wife, three great children and the attention of the world, Robert feels continually rejected, resulting in his string of failed relationships and a wandering life that sees him have regular spells lodging at Marie and Frank’s home, depending on how life his treating him.
The premise of the show is remarkably straightforward – a husband and wife live across the street from the husband’s parents whose constant presence in their lives and home is a source of frustration and conflict, with the added complication of the neurotic brother. It’s a concept simple enough to fail if the writing and performances were not so good. In isolation, both Ray and Frank could be intolerable characters, but both are allowed enough compassion for their family to become relatable. Ray’s apparent outdated beliefs are seemingly unintentional and he accepts that Debra has settled in marrying him, given that he is clearly not a catch. Frank’s own cynicism and sexism are more down to a generational gap, and the moments when he recalls elements of his own childhood, having been hit and rarely seen his own father, give an insight into how his character has actually mellowed between generations.
While Romano and Heaton present a hugely believable couple coping with three young children and an interfering family, the undoubted trump card for the show is the performances of Doris Roberts and Peter Boyle as Ray’s parents. Marie is only ever offering advice, calling everyone dear and doing everything she does out of love…but it’s all done in a gloriously passive-aggressive manner. She teaches Debra to cook, but deliberately leaves out an ingredient so that she remains the better option for Ray. She brings food over all the time, seemingly to help but in actual fact simply believing hers is better. In this role, Roberts is superb. She possesses the right combination of loveable care-giver and fearsome adversary so as to make the character seem the show’s primary focus.
Boyle himself probably gets as many laughs, mostly from inappropriate one-liners, as anybody in the programme. The most laugh-out-loud moments frequently belong to Frank as he has reached the age where he no longer cares what people think of him, including Marie, and he remains the only person who does not tiptoe to the tune called by Marie. Boyle’s delivery of comedic put downs is impeccable, but sadly he was the only one of the main cast not to claim an acting Emmy, a glaring error given the quality of his performance.
Robert is the one character in the programme who is allowed to progress significantly through the seasons, and Brad Garrett is a glowing success in the role, often cited as the reason why Boyle was overlooked during award season. Originally a divorcee staying at his parents, Robert dips in and out of hopeless depression over the nine series, jumping between failed relationships and abodes, before eventually settling down with second wife Amy (Monica Horan). The final few series see regular guest appearances from Amy’s own church devotee parents, Pat and Hank (Georgia Engel and Fred Willard), who add a wonderful dimension when up against Frank and Marie, capable of sinning in more ways than Hank in particular could ever imagine. Willard’s performances in particular are a priceless addition to the shows the couple are present in.
Across nine series, Everybody Loves Raymond rarely lost momentum, collecting scores of awards. The writers and Romano himself had the sense to build a healthy portion of the show around the alleged supporting characters, frequently leaving his own as a mere onlooker at the madness surrounding him. It dealt with the simple frustrations of making a family life work while dealing with siblings, parents and in-laws with great humour and just the right touch of warmth.
The show continues to run on comedy and mainstream channels two decades after its final episode aired. For believable characters, relatable situations, glorious performances and out and out laughs, at a time when American exports began to drift in quality, Everybody Loves Raymond was a glowing success.
About the writer of this article:
Born and raised in Dorset, Brian Slade turned his back on a twenty-five-year career in IT in order to satisfy his writing passions. After success with magazine articles and smaller biographical pieces, he published his first full-length work, `Simon Cadell: The Authorised Biography'.
Brian is a devoted fan of the comedy stars of yesteryear, citing Eric Morecambe, Ken Dodd, Harpo Marx and Dudley Moore amongst his personal favourites. He was drawn to the story of Simon Cadell through not only `Hi-de-hi!' but also `Life Without George', a programme he identified with having grown up in the Thatcher era.
Published on April 27th, 2021. Written by Brian Slade for Television Heaven.