Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Earlier in Slate, Virginia Heffernan wrote that "Everybody Loves Raymond" seems benign, but it is actually a very dark world:

The Barones' horizons seem awfully close, the ceilings very, very low. In these cramped quarters, Robert, the gloomy cop, cycles through obsessive rituals—chin-tapping, most obviously—to placate himself. Marie and Frank openly wish for each other's deaths. Debra periodically makes efforts to get a job, but she's foiled by Ray, who once botched her effort to write a children's book and more recently voted against her in an election for school board president. When asked to list his own goals, the sportswriter Ray can't come up with any. As he puts it, "I got nothing; I got no dreams." No problem, says Debra—that means you're happy. That, in short, is the insistent moral of Everybody Loves Raymond. The studio audience, composed of maniacal laughers, heaves a long "Awww" every time it's revealed. Of course, no sitcom can exist without a major chord to which to return—a status quo—but this one is unnaturally enervating. I guess it's supposed to keep a person on the couch, remind him or her of home—no progress, no forward motion, no dreams. "We've never had arcs or yearlong plots," Ray Romano has explained about the show. "It's the usual crap that drives you crazy about your family."

This isn't just a matter of being "about nothing" as Seinfeld famously was--Seinfeld at least had recurring moments of delight, bright humor, and illuminating irony to give tension to its playful nihilism; ELR's nihilism is more sincere and unbroken.

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