I have often referenced “Everybody Loves Raymond” as the sort of tepid, mediocre sitcom that muscles out the hipper cool ones I love that get cancelled. It’s not terrible, it’s inoffensive, but, in my mind, pedestrian. I never watched it — I saw scenes here and there, even referenced in other movies, and just never took a shine to it. This is not true for many millions of American TV viewers. After seeing this film, my similarly-biased companion and I agreed that we had a newfound appreciation for what Raymond creator Phil Rosenthal was doing and what he achieved in the nine years that Everybody Loves Raymond was on the air.
Exporting Raymond is Rosenthal’s documentary about the culturally illuminating process of having the Raymond concept be remade as a Russian sitcom. Many popular American sitcoms get picked up and made over in the native tongues of their new adoring fans. ”The Nanny” was a hugely international phenomenon, with versions popping up all over the globe, East and West. I don’t mean subtitled reruns, I mean full new productions with native cast, writers, crew, everything. Unlike “The Office,” which only had to bridge minor comedic & attitude divides between its parent nation of England and its current host America, “Everybody Loves Raymond” ends up going through quite a transformation in order to play to Russian audiences.
Rosenthal feels that the Raymond-depicted family unit is pretty universal (beleaguered couple living with a set of parents and their kids), and yet the nebbish husband and smart, harassed wife model doesn’t translate to this very macho culture as he imagined. The Russian studio heads are collectively as terrifying and capricious as any country’s network heads, but the many colorful individuals Rosenthal works with are always a new surprise. It’s very interesting also to see the process of creating and adaptation, of deciding what aspects would sell and what would remain true to the vision of the original that made it a desirable property to adapt in the first place. Witnessing Rosenthal’s reactions to all of this is a real pleasure.
As “Everybody Loves Kostya” takes shape, we get lots of insight into what Phil had created here, what Raymond was really about, and the importance of those elements for the success of the writing, both in terms of the gags and the characters. Any student of comedy should watch the deconstruction of a scene in the Kostya pilot. As laughs come or resolutely refuse to come, the smallest changes in tone make such a huge difference. As an indifferent Raymond spectator watching key original scenes being adapted, I felt like laughing more often than it might be cool to admit. Rosenthal really did get why his character interactions were funny, when physical comedy was more or less necessary, and when words needed to be the tools. I have to say, we left kind of wanting to watch an episode of Raymond.
My long-time movie buddy told me that he’d seen Rosenthal speaking about this film, and urged me to go. I’m so glad he did; Rosenthal is a funny and engaging everyman in a strange land, voicing his feelings and experiences in a jovial and accessible way. His kvetching carries a glow of affection for the situation and his clear passion for the survival of his vision is infectious. Despite seeming a bit like a malleable nebbish himself, Rosenthal asserts himself on behalf of the Raymond formula for success with fervent aplomb in the face of folks trying to make it “more Russian.” He’s a great host for this tour of the Russian sitcom universe, and this film is as funny and charming and interesting as he is. See it.
MPAA Rating: PG
Release date: 4/29/11
Time in minutes: 86
Director: Philip Rosenthal
Studio: Samuel Goldwyn