Far more interesting than anything associated with Everybody Loves Raymond deserves to be, the doc Exporting Raymond broaches a largely untapped subject. Hot on the heels of successful versions of The Nanny in Russia, Indonesia and Argentina, Philip Rosenthal, Raymond’s comfortably nebbish producer, is sent to the former USSR to oversee a Russian remake of his monster hit. Turns out long suffering male figureheads with nagging wives, batty elders and spunky runts really are universal, but then comes an unexpected cultural blockade: Russian sitcoms never moved past barndoor broad, pratfall-heavy tomfoolery. This leaves the evolved comedy of Raymond, based upon a foundation of recognizable mundanity, looking positively alien. Were you even aware Everybody Loves Raymond had “evolved comedy?” No one, from exec to actor, understands what’s funny about an entire episode revolving around vacation luggage no one ones wants to carry up to the bedroom, or a scene about a potentially unfresh bottle of juice. And Raymond? No Russian patriarch would be such a weakling. Awkward rehearsals lead to shoots played to an audience of stone faces, and soon not even Rosenthal is laughing at the jokes he once wrote.
Initially it appears Rosenthal’s motivation for lugging along a camera crew was primarily so he could crack one-liners and make light of Russia’s cultural differences (what a country!). Indeed, much of Exporting Raymond, which Rosenthal also directed, plays like an audition tape for his new career in front of cameras—an onanistic valentine to the wit and wisdom of the real Everybody Loves Raymond. But he also deserves enormous credit for throwing himself fearlessly into the issues that crop up. It’s entirely possible for this quest to end in failure, and Rosenthal presents each problem with candor, even recognizing at one point that his endless criticisms and suggestions to his Russian cowoerks have led to him receiving the silent treatment. Exporting Raymond winds up doubling as a documentary that’s actually entertaining and a fairly serious—if never serious—inquiry into how important a region’s culture informs comedy. It’s almost enough to convince skeptics that actual episodes of Everybody Loves Raymond share a similar incisiveness.