Recently I happened to see an episode of the Indian version of the popular sitcom – while it may have seemed refreshing to all of us, tired of the Indian ‘Saas-Bahu’ sagas (Mother-in-law v/s Daughter-in-law), it was not a patch on the original – ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’.
The original series that ran on CBS was cute and had a long run for about 9 years and 210 episodes. It is like a mini-capsule running approx 20 mins each. Recurrent themes make for familiar settings and the fun is in the interaction though one can predict how the Cookie will crumble in most episodes.
Ray Romano has an Italian lineage but not much of it shows except for the mention of the delicious Lasagna cooked by his mother, Marie. But a lot of the story is based on his real-life family as well.
Ray’s life will seem to be an American dream come true – working as a famous sports columnist who has his office at home, he is married to Debra who ticks the boxes when it comes to being a perfect wife (smart, good-looking, well-educated and a caring person). She misses the grade in managing the home, kids, and cooking – something that Ray’s mother, Marie, will always dig into. Marie in contrast is the traditional mother – good at cooking and home care, a shrewd manipulator with a heart that still cares for the family. The ‘Mother-in-law’ v/s ‘Daughter-in-law’ battle is the biggest game at play in the sitcom but the western version is quite a change from our desi dose.
Of course there are some other dynamics as well in this slightly dysfunctional family that seems to be a crazy way to live but comes up tops when it really comes to the ‘nuts-n-bolts’ of the situation.Ray’s elder brother – Robert and father – Frank make up the main cast. Robert is a counterfoil to all that Ray isn’t – he is a cop, stays with his parents, is divorced and not quite good at making personal relations. He has a deep resentment that his parents prefer Ray to him particularly his mother. At the end of it all he simply moons to have the kind of life Ray has i.e. the American dream in reality.
Frank’s yet another interesting character. He is abrasive and tough to touch for sentiments. He has had a tough life and still made a success of his kids particularly Ray. But he ragged them to death when they were young and he has ‘love-to-hate-you’ relationship with his wife, Marie, who is capable of giving it back as good as she gets. Frank manages to find an equation with Debra particularly when it comes to taking on Marie as Ray and Robert just can’t stand up to her.
In the final seasons we see more of Amy as well who is Debra’s friend and start to date Robert. Eventually they get married as well. So in this crazy circus one would be bet that Ray seems to have it made. Yet Ray’s life is far from ideal and he ends having to juggle and get frustrated in managing the extended family. To begin with Ray’s parents & elder brother Robert just stay across the road and invariably meddle into their lives. And the interplay of discordant characters forced to share space is in full swing as we get to see them scheme up plans to hilarious effect.
As the kids grow up, we get a lot of valid inputs on parenting as well. Quite a few meaningful episodes reflect the challenges we face with our own kids. ‘Debra’ and ‘Ray’ having a conversation at the end of a long day in their bed often throws up interesting ideas and opinions.
The traditional stereotypes are reinforced and the millennials may well feel that a lot is wrong with the characters. Guess it is a reflection of American culture that you are both openly expressive of our feelings and quite self-centred. Given a mix of oddball characters is it any surprise that a hilarious chaos is the outcome in most of the situations?
But Ray’s message seems to be that while interpersonal relationships are tricky to manage, at the end of it the extended family is important and worth the trouble. One also likes to see that they are cardboardish ‘Black n White’ characters – so all of them are various shades of grey and none is a villain in the piece. So how’s that for realism with a comic touch?
One can easily put a display box of adjectives on them –
|Shades of grey|
|Raymond||Humorous, afraid of his mother, often whines, skips helping at home but adores his wife & kids, plays the peace-maker and is ripped off in most episodes.|
|Debra||Sophisticated yet caring, a bad cook who can’t stand her mother-in-law, supports the family, looks perpetually harassed, schemes up to trip Raymond and often ends up getting the thin edge of the wedge. ‘Lemon Chicken’ just about defines the acme of her culinary skills.|
|Robert||Jealous of Raymond’s success, has difficulties in his relationships including Amy but eventually marries her, yearns for his mother’s appreciation but she is all for Raymond, and so he is the fall guy in most episodes except when he schemes with Raymond.|
|Marie||Matriarch, excellent cook and home-maker, puts up with a cranky Frank, favours Raymond, hates Debra’s guts, is manipulative and shrewd. Ends up getting her way in quite a few situations.’You want something to eat’? is her punchline whenever Ray walks into her home, typically through the kitchen.|
|Frank||Masochist, doesn’t like to show his emotions, terrorized his sons during their childhood, scatological jokes abound about him, he is the one who can really answer back Marie and seems to care for the family though doesn’t wear it on his sleeve. He backs up Debra in her fight with Marie and has fun with his grandchildren.|
|Amy||Loves Robert, scatterbrained and chatty, is overtly apologetic and ready to burst into tears. Easily manipulated and unable to make her own decisions. But even she gets to throw an occasional punch when it gets tough.|
The episode’s situations play out as per the above matrix so it’s quite easy to figure out what happens next. Still the writing is good, the jokes rake up the laughs and we enjoy watching Raymond being at the centre of it all.
It ran for 9 seasons before drawing to rather abrupt end – the final episode was no ‘special’ episode and it ran to the usual length. Its theme too was routine and there was no ‘dramatic’ exit to the story. Well that was kind of a cute end when one sees how the other serials try to create a rather dramatic swansong. So there you go – can’t help but say it that ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’.