When Everybody Loves Raymond was one season old, I wrote that the show’s “smart scripting and sharp acting make [it] a strong and well-produced television series ... but not flawless. Particularly troubling are the cynical put-downs exchanged by family members.”
Seven years and a mantle full of Emmys later, Raymond is still smartly scripted, now with new characters added to a maturing, expanding family. Ray (Ray Romano) and Debra’s (Patricia Heaton) daughter isn’t a precocious five anymore, which has shifted the demands on them as parents toward adolescent issues. Twin boys have joined the fold—not that the kids figure into more than a few episodes per season. Ray’s brother, Robert (Brad Garrett), has married a girl from a conservative religious background. Aside from that, not much has changed. The show continues to benefit from spot-on ensemble acting and laugh-out-loud punch lines. (The sitcom is expected to reel in $1 billion in its first syndication cycle.)
Sadly, its biggest problem is still nasty digs. The Barones have become experts at verbal dodgeball. Ray and Debra mix things up from time to time, enjoying tender moments of affection to offset the tension. But Ray’s parents, Frank (Peter Boyle) and Marie (Doris Roberts), never let up. After Ray and Debra get a home security system installed, Frank cackles, “I don’t need an alarm to scare away crooks at my place. I keep an old bat for that.” Later, when his hypercritical wife blackmails him into taking her side during a family squabble, he blurts, “Marie is my wife, and if I [don’t] support her in this, then she’ll be like an ice pick in my ear until I die.”
Mild profanity crops up in each episode. And plot points (usually involving Robert’s pious in-laws) can seem to treat an intelligent faith in God as an oxymoron. Fortunately, sexual innuendoes are usually mild (“It all started with 19 hours of horrible labor,” Marie says about Raymond. “But before that there was a smile!” winks Frank). Consequently, families can choose to sort through the zingers the way they’d rummage through a box of yard sale trinkets, picking out pleasant surprises without buying the whole lot.
Episodes Reviewed: Feb. 23, March 1, 22, April 19, May 3, 2004