In 2005, Everybody Loves Raymond wrapped up its ninth and final season, taking its leave after 210 episodes which led it to become one of the more beloved shows of the era. It was a show that highlighted the ups and downs of every day, married life, a topic which obviously the general public related to. Seven years later, you can probably turn your television on right now and find a syndicated episode of Raymond somewhere. Shortly after the finale, show creator Phil Rosenthal was approached by a SONY representative and asked to help the Russian television network create a native version of Raymond. Rosenthal brought along a film crew to document the events, revealing that comedy isn’t quite as universal as we might expect.
I’m not sure exactly what Rosenthal expected from his trip abroad but it becomes quite clear early on that he wasn’t prepared for this undertaking. He is thrown for a loop when he discovers that he has to invest in Kidnapping and Rescue Insurance, an issue he is assured never comes up; he astutely points out that if it “never” came up, there would be no need for the insurance. Upon arriving, he meets up with his private security guard/driver and their exchange soars right past the “awkward” stage and borders on becoming “tense.” He is undoubtedly a stranger in a strange land and it only gets worse from there.
Later, Rosenthal is brought to the studio (which literally looks like every depressing, dilapidated building you’ve ever seen in a Hollywood version of Russia) and introduced to the crack team of writers and crew he will be working with. They show him clips from American shows that have previously been remade and he is given a glimpse into what Russians find funny. In my opinion, this was the best part of the entire documentary. Rosenthal is shown a clip from the Russian version of The Nanny, one of the most successful programs ever, which was truly atrocious. If, like me, you believe there is no lower form of “comedy” than Fran Dresher and The Nanny, then allow me to burst your bubble: judging from the 30 seconds shown in Exporting Raymond, I would say the Russian version is approximately 37 times worse. That exact sentiment is written in bold across Rosenthal’s face as he looks around the room at his laughing coworkers and realizes he’s bitten off far more than he could possibly chew. It is moment that is both hilarious and a little bit heartbreaking.
As Exporting Raymond progresses, we see more and more conflicts unfold for Rosenthal. The casting process alone turns out to be a major hassle as the actor Rosenthal wants to play the Raymond character is unable to get leave from his theater company and he is replaced with an actor who appears to be the Russian equivalent of Paul Walker in terms of acting ability. To top it all off, Rosenthal doesn’t get along with the director of the pilot episode, who seems to regard him as a nuisance and refuses to listen to his advice, which is, of course, the only reason he was brought in.
The greatest strength of Exporting Raymond is its ability to point out the dramatic differences between the Russian culture and our own with a simple, understated style. This is a, “Let the camera roll and see what happens” sort of documentary and there’s very little in the way or post-production or narration; rather, for the most part, the audience sees what Rosenthal sees and his reactions which are generally priceless. There are times when the film loses focus and becomes somewhat dull and even at its best, there’s nothing excessively funny or definitively special about Exporting Raymond. But it still serves as a quirky, fun, and moderately insightful piece of work that is worth a viewing if for no other reason than to experience Rosenthal’s dumbfounded facial expressions for yourself.