In Everybody Loves Raymond, Ray and Debra Barone (Ray Romano and Patricia Heaton) are a thirtysomething married couple with all the trimmings—three kids, a steady income, a nice house, and surely (trust me on this) a fancy car. So what could possibly be their problem? The in-laws. But, of course. Ray’s mum Marie and dad Frank (Doris Roberts and Peter Boyle), live next door and are constantly coming over and creating havoc, interrupting Ray and Deb’s otherwise idyllic life. Or so we are led to believe. When examined more closely, Ray and Deb have issues. Big issues. Issues far too weighty to have much, if anything, to do with the in-laws’ annoying visits.
A typical day in the life of the Barones is guaranteed to include the following situation: Ray will do or say something silly; Deb will tell him off, making him look like a goof; then we will find out that Deb’s not so perfect and Ray will suddenly have the upper hand before she forgives him, thus allowing him to forgive her right back. Parents visit, the end. Week after week, script after script, this is what we can expect. In a recent episode, Ray asked Debra if he could invest in a go-kart track and she said no. It turned out that he had already invested without consulting her. He eventually told her, she flipped (you can tell a sitcom wife has flipped when she takes her pillow and sleeps downstairs), his parents visited and found out what happened. Then Marie reminded Deb she had once had financial dealings with her behind Ray’s back, suddenly Ray had the upper hand, Deb forgave Ray, Ray forgave Deb, and it was happy families again.
Everybody Loves Raymond
Philip Rosenthal, Stu Smiley, Rory Rosegarten, Worldwide Pants Incorporated, HBO Independent Productions
HBO Independent Productions
Ray Romano, Patricia Heaton, Brad Garrett, Peter Boyle, Doris Roberts
Regular airtime: Mondays, 9pm ET/PT (CBS, USA); Sundays and Tuesdays, 8pm
(Channel Ten, Australia)
Now, I realise it’s impossible to hope for sitcoms to be much more complicated than this. Unless, of course, you come up with a Malcolm in the Middle, in which every family member has his or her own well-defined place within the domestic structure, each being a developed and interesting character, with equal amounts of time on screen, doing things you don’t know if you should laugh at, because you yourself have done them and they were just as weird when you did them. Unfortunately, Ray and Deb can’t match the weekly wisdom of Malcolm in the Middle between their arguing, and it feels as though something is missing. It’s perhaps time to see something other than the usual references to a woman’s place being in the home, and a man’s being on the football field (or in front of the tv set), which tend to solicit smirks rather than laughs.
Every time I sit down to watch an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond, a couple of questions jump into my mind. First and foremost, what’s up with Ray’s complete disinterest in his children? (I know I’m not the only one who has noticed this, and even that it is part of his characterization, but it can be annoying.) While Deb and Ray are the obvious centrepiece, the kids—Gregory, Schmegory, and the blonde girl—are mere decoration, there to remind us we are watching a family. Ray all but ignores his children when they are in the room, occasionally glaring at them and only really paying them any mind when they can either prove a point for him, or be beneficial in some other way. For example, when the twins were in the school play, Ray didn’t want them playing faeries as they preferred, and instead had them reassigned to play two massive boulders, in order to prove their “masculinity” and therefore make Daddy look better. Sometimes, I don’t think he even likes his kids. This became quite apparent when Deb resisted Ray’s desire to invest in that go-kart track. She asserted they had financial commitments elsewhere, like the kids’ college funds. He responded with a question: “Kids? When are we gonna see a dime from that investment?”
Second question, when is Debra just going to leave Ray? I have recently changed my views about Debra, once furrowing my brow every time she opened her mouth, wondering why Ray insisted on being married to such a bitch. But then it hit me: when you’re married to someone as misogynistic as Ray, what else is there? Watch her closely and you realise she is almost never without a dirty dish, basket of towels or bag of groceries in her hands. Debra cooks, cleans, feeds the kids, drives them to school and picks them up, dusts, vacuums, irons, and leads “bath day,” while Ray complains about not being allowed to play golf. Deb’s problem is not that she doesn’t love Ray. I’m sure she does. I’m just more sure that she is a former cheerleader who was swept off her feet by a nice but unexciting high school classmate, whom she ended up marrying, only to realise her horrible mistake ten years later. She is often mean and insulting to her husband and completely resents her in-laws’ attitude. She’s trapped in suburbia with the nerd who got lucky, and buddy, she wants out. But she loves her kids and Ray, after all, does make a fair amount of cash, so she goes about her duties, making veryone’s life hell all the while. And now that I think about it, though she claims to be an adoring parent, it’s rare to find her talking to the kids much either. Though maybe in sitcom-family-world, spending time with the kids would be akin to watching Ally McBeal actually write up a case report.
Deb puts down everything that makes Ray feel comfortable, from sports to food to the way he acts around his parents. But then, Ray is apparently a lifelong member of that boy’s club where everyone hates girls but loves mummy. This is, of course, the basis of the series’ humor: Ray, his brother Robert (Brad Garrett), and Frank are just as stereotypical as the women on the series, only they’re funny. Ray might be a knob, but he’s a lovable knob, and has his most interesting interactions with his father and brother. Robert is a human version of Winnie The Pooh—calm, sensitive, big, and huggable. He still lives with his parents, and unsurprisingly, feels underappreciated by them, and a bit of a failure as a police officer, compared to Ray’s glamorous role as a sports reporter for Newsday. Robert is jealous of the life Ray has made for himself, and the many ways he was favoured as a child: Marie still gives him more ice cream.
Ray and Robert are quite similar in gestures and behavior, basically gentle guys. Frank is not. He’s staunchly anti-women, loud, abrasive, and at times, downright offensive when it comes to his family. Obviously, Ray learned his chauvinism from Frank, who rarely has a loving thing to say to his own wife. At the same time, Frank’s attitude toward his grandchildren mirrors Ray’s, as he repeatedly makes jokes about the possibility of one of the (three-year-old) twins being homosexual. Frank and Ray are often stupidly funny, but Robert more often than not sounds intelligent, which only results in his being ridiculed again. I’d like to see a little more of that intelligence pumped into other characters, especially Ray and Frank, and more understanding between Deb and Ray, something to give me an inkling as to what makes her love him, rather than watch her pissed off all the time. And, I’d like to see the women play more than just, well, “the women.”
Barring all those unlikely changes, Everybody Loves Raymond might improve, Jesse-style, if the producers get rid of the irritating Marie (whom Deb needs to hit over the head with a frying pan; I mean, a woman can only take so much ribbing about her lasagna), and replace her with, perhaps, a family dog. Then, move Robert and Frank into Ray’s house (Peter Boyle can do no wrong, even if his lines are chauvinist and fart-joke-like), causing Deb to go insane and leave to find her former football team captain boyfriend. She can take the kids, too, leaving us with the three guys. The show is geared towards and about the men, after all.