By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
On TV, everybody loved “Everybody Loves Raymond.”
So when series creator, producer, and writer Phil Rosenthal accepted the opportunity to adapt his Emmy-winning, reality-based comedy about a husband/father, his family, and his overbearing parents living across the street for Russian television, he figured, how could it miss? What’s funny is funny, right?
Well, not so fast, yankee.
The labor pains involved in translating this entertaining entity for Russian TV, which has already featured local versions of our “Married With Children” and “The Nanny,” is the focus of Exporting Raymond, a delightful and insightful culture-clash documentary written and directed by Rosenthal that is a pleasure to sit through even if you’re not already a fan of the series.
And if you are (as I am), there will be an extra entertainment bonus in re-experiencing highlights of the show in clips from the original series — which are wonderfully funny and still hold up.
Rosenthal (at left in photo), an immensely likable on-screen presence with the sharp timing of a standup comedian, would seem to have gotten the performing bug. So he took a film crew along with him to record his experience, and his witty observations and increasing incredulity as things proceed and unravel, are key ingredients.
Not the least of which are his clashes with executives from Russian TV who do not find him or his strongly autobiographical, labor-of-love project nearly as funny as he does, and whose suggestions and demands threaten to alter the program until it’s nothing like the baby he brought into the world a little over a decade ago.
But that’s just one of the things fish-out-of-water Rosenthal is up against when he travels to Russia to supervise development of “Everybody Loves Kostya.”
Where Phil really gets his fill is in the fragile adaptation process. Most of the changes the Russians want to make — in tone, rhythm, focus, title, costumes, and casting — so that the sitcom will be palatable for the Russian audience are wrenchingly objectionable to him.
Perhaps, he wonders, the humor on the show about a quirky family is not as universal as he once thought, an observation that is brought home when we see portions of the same scene from the American and Russian program back-to-back.
As we watch Rosenthal battle thorough his insecurities and disappointments, we come to realize just how much of the character played by Romano emerges from the persona of Rosenthal (similarly to what we’ve learned about the George Costanza character on “Seinfeld” by watching Larry David’s series, “Curb Your Enthusiam”).
And when Rosenthal pays a visit to his parents, we notice how much of Raymond’s fictional parents are based on Rosenthal’s real ones.
Rosenthal is a tad more intent on entertaining than enlightening his audience, which certainly could be seen as a limitation of this project. But it’s also a reminder that this is not a mockumentary, but about as amusing a documentary as you’re likely to see.
So we’ll import 3 stars out of 4 for a lost-in-translation doc that’s as warm and funny as the TV show it’s about. Almost everybody — but especially those who love “Everybody Loves Raymond” — will love Exporting Raymond.