A shot of Long Island, New York from above, where Everybody Loves Raymond is set

Everybody Loves Raymond, and how to unsuccessfully defy the sitcom formula

American sitcoms have peppered television schedules since the mid to late 1940s. Friends is often regarded as being the all-time greatest sitcom despite rarely being funny, while many others aired for the first time between the late 1980s and the present day, each with their own spin on the comedy sub genre. An iteration of the American sitcom is Everybody Loves Raymond, and to its credit, choosing to defy rule 1 of sitcoms didn’t ruin its chances of popularity the world over.

Ray Romano’s template for situation comedy

First aired in 1996, Everybody Loves Raymond was in the peak of American sitcoms, at a time where many comedians would be handed the opportunity to have their own sitcom based on what they claim to be their own life experiences.

It would typically be the case that by doing this, the comedian is deciding to either show an alternate version of their life today (Louie, Curb Your Enthusiasm) or they’re creating a setting and story for their sitcom, but with their character placed – either directly or with changes made – somewhere in the middle of it all (Seinfeld, The Goldbergs).

Alternatively, sitcoms could be vaguely based on past experiences, but with it being clear that the story and characters are fictional (The Office, Frasier, Father Ted, Peep Show). As the sitcom was intended as being based around Ray Romano as a key character, he changed his occupation and family, but he kept himself as being as close to reality as possible.

You can choose to briefly summarise the overall theme of a sitcom in a number of ways, whether that’s the recurring trend of the main character inadvertently making errors, a life goal trying to be achieved but there being many setbacks on the way, or even just a sense of chaos that can’t be averted despite the lead characters constant efforts. However, Everybody Loves Raymond refuses to fit into any of these fields, instead being a podium for Ray Romano to display himself as an all-American man who does what he wants, insisting that everybody loves him for it in the process.

Where Ray Romano’s throbbing ego presents itself

In almost every case of a sitcom, the main character – or characters – are constantly clumsily messing up in one way or another, or it could even be that they’re frequently being judged and criticised despite possessing genuinely good intentions.

The stand-out attempt to defy sitcoms made by Ray Romano with Everybody Loves Raymond is that he goes against these general guidelines. Now, I would trust Larry David (Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm) or Graham Linehan (Father Ted, Black Books, The IT Crowd) to attempt this – as I would potentially with Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong (Peep Show) as long as it’s more like Peep Show and not like Fresh Meat – but Ray Romano was horrendously unqualified.

Not only is Ray Romano’s character of Ray Barone not failing at anything in life, but he’s also beloved by every single character in the show. He decides to put the character down as a massively successful sports writer who the whole of the United States adores. Romano goes as far as writing in sections where characters comment on how much they enjoyed his latest column, which when you think about it is actually quite pathetic.

It’s not even as if he can be credited with giving the character a caring personality, as he spends most of the show lying to or ignoring his wife, avoiding his parents, getting out of spending time with his children, trying to play golf as if the audience is meant to find it impressive, showing off to other women, and just being an absolute bastard with no likeable personality traits.

What is funny about success and accomplishment?

If you’re like me, you’ll spend most episodes of Everybody Loves Raymond feeling stressed, as there’s clear issues between Ray Barone and his wife, and as each episode plays out, he acts like a child and refuses to take responsibility for any of his actions.

I don’t even know who the show is meant to resonate with. Ray’s brother Robert is always overlooked by everyone including their parents, as while Ray is a married man with a house, three children and a job in the public eye where everyone praises him, Robert is a policeman who, for most of the show, is forced to live with his parents across the road.

Robert Barone is a far funnier character than Ray, and the irony of that statement is that Robert fits the criteria for the ideal sitcom character by being so hard-done-by. Raymond’s parents spend moments of being funny, as do other supporting characters, but as they spend so much time making more work for Ray’s wife or directly insulting her, even these extra comedy elements don’t add sufficient humour to make Everybody Loves Raymond worth watching.

Being a successful key character in a sitcom doesn’t mean that the show must be immediately cancelled, but it depends on how this success is portrayed. Ray Barone is successful from start to finish and the stresses he puts up with aren’t as bad as you’d see in most other sitcoms, especially as they mostly focus on his family wanting to spend time with him and him simply not wanting to.

Observations from other sitcoms

Looking even deeper at key characters in sitcoms being funny regardless of their distinct success, it’s clear to see that endearing or self-destructive character traits see the programme itself capitalise while Ray Barone lies dead in the water.

Kelsey Grammar’s portrayal of Dr Frasier Crane in Frasier is a star performance through the wealthy radio psychiatrist often being unrecognisable to most people he comes into contact with, and the remaining people he meets thoroughly disliking his work.

Creator of Beavis and Butt-Head and King of the Hill Mike Judge expertly set obstacles for his Emmy nominated sitcom Silicon Valley. The show itself is primarily set around a computer programmer with an application that is clearly worth a lot of money, but he sees his efforts to be successful thwarted by people screwing him over, his friends and co-workers making poor decisions, and doing enough damage himself by getting naively carried away with his own success.

As for Everybody Loves Raymond, the best episodes according to Ranker include one where Robert brings his new girlfriend over and Raymond is also attracted to her, one where Raymond refuses to move a suitcase so his wife has to move it instead, and one where his daughter creates a ‘cry for help’ drawing about how dysfunctional her family is. If that doesn’t summarise how much of a feckless moron the character of Ray Barone is, it’s hard to tell what else will.

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Comments

  1. Love it. Great to see the importance of being honest. Love the reference to Ray’s ego as “throbbing.” I admit to once liking the programme iand stopped watching for the reasons Geoff pointed out. I was consistently waiting for Deborah to completely lose the plot and set about Raymond with a pizza slice in one hand and a traditional rolling pin in the other. I have to agree with Geoff, the only pleasantly funny, though overly docile character in the programme, is Robert. Long may Geoff produce what people like me want to read.

    1. What? Frasier’s situation is for the most part the complete opposite of this, and way closer to what you criticise Ray Barone for.

      1. Frasier Crane isn’t entirely innocent, but the moments where he puts Niles, Martin, Roz, Daphne, Daphne’s many family members, Eddie, Lilith and many others ahead of himself show what his true intentions are. You don’t get that with Ray Barone. Even in moments where he’s trying to be nice, selfless and think of his family first, he still opts to prioritise his own wants and needs. He’s thoroughly unlikable and defies the sitcom formula without doing anything unique.

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