I passed over this show repeatedly, thinking I hadn't possibly watched enough of it to make a Top Ten list. I watched the first three or four seasons regularly, but that tapered off as the show's popularity grew. But as I was scanning through nine seasons worth of episode descriptions, it was a surprise how many of them were familiar. "Everybody Loves Raymond" quietly permeated the popular culture to such an extent, it was a hard show to miss. I even watched the documentary about Phil Rosenthal's efforts to help launch the Russian version of the show a few years back, "Exporting Raymond." So here we are.
The episodes listed below are unranked and ordered by airdate.
"The Dog" - Ah, Shmansky. Robert's new canine pal causes tensions between him and Raymond, and we learn exactly how much Ray loves his brother when the real owner shows up. Brad Garrett's performance sells this one for me, especially when he's reminiscing about his old dog, and when he learns what Shmansky's original name was. It's also a lot of fun to spot Shmansky in various episodes as the show rolls on.
"Why Are We Here?" - Flashback episodes were a staple of "Raymond," usually saved for season finales for the extra emotional impact. My favorite is still the first one they did, back when Debra was still on more friendly terms with Marie and Frank. It's fun to look back a couple of years in the Barone's lives and look at how the family dynamics evolved. The announcement of the impending arrival of the twins here is a highlight.
"Marie's Meatballs" - Most of my favorite episodes involve incidents that could be easily mistaken for minor domestic tiffs, but they turn out to be vitally important to the characters and their relationships. And so, Marie's sabotage of Debra's cooking lets us explore Debra and Marie's insecurities and Raymond's reluctance to choose sides. And, of course, this was only the first of several other cooking battles to come.
"Good Girls" - I thought that this episode came much later in the show's run, when Robert and Amy were a more permanent couple. Instead, we find a new wrinkle in Debra and Marie's relationship fairly early on, in an episode where everyone talks about sex without actually talking about sex. And it's one of the show's best moments when Frank spills the beans on Marie. And somehow, the real loser in all this is Robert. Of course.
"Halloween Candy" - I love that Peter Boyle gets to reprise Frankenstein's monster and make terrible jokes in this episode, which is actually about birth control. Ray and Debra's sex life is in jeopardy once again, as Ray considers unappealing options. I haven't said much about Ray Barone or Ray Romano yet, but his presence is such a big reason why "Raymond" works so well. Here he proves as neurotic and tragic as any other Barone.
"The Can Opener" - Debra and Ray have a fight over a new can opener, which leads to a "Rashomon" style retelling of events from their two wildly different points of view. All the Barones get involved by the end, culminating in Marie and Frank's glorious showdown over a jar of fat. The plotting is so simple, but the resulting fireworks and the performances from everyone involved are just fabulous. This is easily one of my favorites.
"Marie's Sculpture" - However, I don't think anything in "Raymond" can top Marie's uncomfortably yonic sculpture. For a family friendly, PG rated show, they sure weren't shy about discussing sexuality, though usually in the sweetest and most inoffensive terms. It's not the sculpture that's funny, but that nobody can bring themselves to tell Marie what's wrong. Still, due to the subject matter, this episode wasn't shown in the UK for a number of years.
"Lucky Suit" - Robert's big interview with the FBI is compromised by Marie, who ends up in the hot seat. As you may have guessed, Marie is my favorite character. As impossible as her behavior is, she's willing to go the distance for her boys every time. Here, Doris Roberts is at her best as Marie tries to manipulate her way out of a bad situation, and finally has a rare moment of honesty when she realizes that she's outclassed.
"Baggage" - It doesn't surprise me that the unpacked suitcase on the stairs came from the real life experience of one of the show's executive producers. "Raymond" was always at its best when it felt the closest to reality. However, the writers spinning that into Ray and Debra's epic battle of wills and resentment is what made the show so special. It's one thing to be relatable, but another entirely to be so funny at the same time.
"Crazy Chin" - Robert's habit of touching food to his chin before he eats it is called out by his in-laws. Suddenly, it's a big deal, prompting speculation, theorizing, and a trip down memory lane. Amy and her family were later arrivals to the show, but they were a great new source of aggravation and character development for Robert. It was great to see Robert grow a bit over the years too, proving he didn't have to be a sad sack to be funny and lovable.