I love Ray Romano.
And apparently, so do the Russians.
The sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond, which was loosely based on the lives of Romano and producer Phil Rosenthal, ran for nine seasons on CBS. It was nominated for the Best Comedy Series Emmy seven times and won twice.
When they decided to end the series in 2005, it was still in the Top 10, a spot it had occupied since its third season on the air.
Exporting Raymond is a documentary that opened in very limited release in movie theatres last Friday. It follows Rosenthal’s efforts to produce a Russian version of the sitcom… which is probably even more difficult than you would think.
And really, really funny.
This isn’t a documentary about Ray Romano. He’s not in it, except in copious clips from the sitcom. This is Phil’s baby, and he — who I had never seen on camera before — is hilarious in his own right.
He’s wide-eyed and nervous and tentative. I definitely saw flashes of Woody Allen in his manner (thankfully without the annoying stammer). But when it comes to Everybody Loves Raymond and helping it come alive for the Russian audience, he is strong and certain and somewhat single-minded.
Goodness knows he runs into obstacles. The studios there look like bombed out buildings. The writers and actors are doing two or three shows simultaneously and have extremely limited time and resources. And the people ‘in charge’ bring somewhat questionable expertise to the table.
It takes a translator, vodka, a kindly driver, a real Russian family, more vodka, and a bit of give-and-take before the pilot episode is complete. The entire process is really fascinating to watch.
So, how was the Russian version of Raymond received? I shouldn’t tell you the end. (Let’s just say it lives up to its name.)