Seinfeld. Roseanne. Romano: Three comedians who successfully parlayed their stand-up comedy act and personal experience into a long-running series. Based on the comedy of Ray Romano, Everybody Loves Raymond is similar to Seinfeld in that single episodes are based on a simple incident spinning dizzyingly out of control, and shares with Roseanne a look at the fabric of a painfully funny family.
But as much as Everybody Loves Raymond has in common with those two groundbreaking shows, the most groundbreaking element of the series is how classic it is. Like The Jeffersons and All in the Family before it, Everybody Loves Raymond episodes often unfurl like one-act plays. Sometimes they become farce; sometimes they become a surprisingly touching portrait peeling back the layers of the characters. In I Love Lucy, when the title character gets herself in trouble, you see it coming and can't stop her -- nor would you want to, because the trouble is what makes that show so indelible. The same holds true for the title character in ,i>Raymond.
When Everybody Loves Raymond premiered September 1996, viewers were treated to a glimpse into the Barone family of Long Island, NY. Ray and Debra are parents to a young daughter and toddler twin boys. Ray's parents, Marie and Frank, and older brother Robert live across the street. In the first episode, the template of the show is clear: Ray's parents and brother intrude on Ray and Debra's lives - in this case, Debra's birthday party. For nine seasons, the same dynamic played out in varying degrees until the final episode, with the apotheosis of the comedy: Marie climbs into Ray and Debra's bed. And at the series end, when the Barones sit down for family dinner, you know they will continue their intrusive but loving relationship -- and we are all fortunate for the nine-year drop-in on their lives.
Series co-creator Philip Rosenthal drew on many of his own experiences. Check out "The Can Opener" episode, which he based on an actual spat with his wife, Monica Horan (who also appeared in the series as Robert's put-upon girlfriend and eventual wife Amy MacDougall).
Romano and Rosenthal assembled the perfect cast: Earthy-hot stage actress Patricia Heaton brought a feisty elegance to Debra. Brad Garrett's size and voice made Robert a memorable creation. Doris Roberts was the über mom, and Young Frankenstein's Peter Boyle was the consummate meal-obsessed, oafish father. Notable regular guest stars included Katherine Helmond and Robert Culp as Debra's parents and Fred Willard, Georgia Engel and Chris Elliott as Amy's family.
The show garnered almost 70 Emmy nominations, winning for Outstanding Comedy Series in 2003 and in its final season in 2005. Stars Romano, Heaton, Roberts and Garrett all won individual Emmys, and the ensemble cast was nominated seven times for the Screen Actors Guild Award, finally winning in 2003.
The show is an exemplary case of "it's funny 'cause it's true." Wars of attrition over household items -- a suitcase on the stairs, lotion-enriched tissues, old records, sofa covers -- are the daily battles we all fight with love. Many of our lifelong dynamics (sibling rivalry, the judgmental mother-in-law, the plight of an unmarried 40something) are all heightened for the sake of a legendary character-driven comedy. The love this family shares, though sometimes with strings or lasagna attached, is not so different from our own... though of course we hope our parents don't drive their cars into our houses.