43. "Baggage," Everybody Loves Raymond (2003)
Welcome to the “100 Best Sitcom Episodes of All Time,” a countdown for 2012. Each episode will get a separate blog post, counting backward toward No. 1. A list of the programs revealed so far is here (and on Pinterest), and an introduction to the project is here.
Squeamish readers beware: This episode includes family members yelling at each other. I don't find this to be a comedy killer, but maybe it's because of how I grew up: among relatives and neighbors (mostly Catholic or Jewish) who squabbled a lot and did it loudly, and without any thought of divorce or permanent estrangement. Cougar Town, where characters pout and mildly tease each other, makes me chuckle. Everybody Loves Raymond makes me laugh. These are my people!
"Baggage" is about the "Mexican standoff" (as Frank puts it) between Ray and Debra over who is going to carry a large suitcase up to the bedroom after a vacation. It sits for weeks on the landing between first and second floors, with both Ray and Debra not saying a word but deliberately walking around the suitcase, full of dirty clothes, several times a day.
Frank: (to Debra, while scarfing down potato chips) Listen, you're the one who does all the laundry, right? So why don't you just carry the suitcase up yourself? That's how it's supposed to be.
Debra: All right, now let me tell you something! If I'm the one who has to do the laundry, then why should I be the one to carry that thing upstairs? Isn't that the man's job? Isn't that the "manly" thing to do, huh? Isn't that how that's supposed to be?
Frank: (after pausing and weighing his options) Obviously, you've put a lot more thought into this than I have.
Do adults behave this way in real life? In my first apartment, I had two roommates. One of them ("Felix") couldn't stand to have a single dirty dish or utensil in the sink, which meant he always washed the dishes left by my other roommate, "Oscar." After a few months of this, Felix suddenly decided that he was being taken advantage of, so he'd remove the dishpan before washing his own plates and scrubbing the sink, then he'd put Oscar's debris back in the sink. Oscar apparently took this as an affront, so he refused to wash his own dishes, and they piled up, with neither roommate saying a word about it (and me eating all my meals on campus to avoid the conflict). After about a week, Felix took the overflowing dishpan and dumped the contents on Oscar's bed. It was hilarious, at least to me.
When I was living with another roommate, I spent over a week seething about a pile of papers and manila folders left on the dining room table before I finally demanded, "Are you going to move these any time soon?" "But you put them there" was his bewildered response. And so I did, as I had to admit after actually looking at the papers.
So even though I've never been married, I can believe that a husband and wife would leave a suitcase on a landing for weeks without talking about it, and that the husband would try to force the situation by hiding a piece of pungent cheese in the suitcase before leaving on a business trip. ("I love cheese, and yet I used it as a weapon," Ray laments later.)
It's all about getting "hand," as George Costanza put it, and as I mentioned in my last post, about Sam and Diane on Cheers. One-upmanship games involved at the begining of a relationship are still considered funny (not just on Cheers but on current shows like How I Met Your Mother and 30 Rock), but a battle of wills between a long-married couple now seems to be viewed as hacky and According to Jim-y. I think it's funnier when the couple has a history to draw from, which is why I'd probably like Friends' Monica and Chandler better now, wherever they are in suburban New York, than in the time period actually covered on the show.
Debra: (after finding the cheese into the suitcase) Ray does not get to win because of this! Trust me, if smells bothered me, I would have left him a long time ago!
• Doris Roberts got too many Emmys for playing Marie on this show, but I laughed out loud at her condescending "Debra, you can't keep cheese in a suitcase!"
• The script by Tucker Cawley got Raymond its only Emmy for writing. One clever aspect is that it incorporates a back story for the big wooden fork and spoon that hangs in Marie and Frank's kitchen, which concludes with a great sight gag. Commenters on imdb.com and the like point out that the story can't be true because the props look different in earlier episodes. Continuity is the real comedy killer.
• In the documentary Exporting Raymond, "Baggage" is the first episode attempted for a Russian version of the sitcom. Even if you're not a Raymond fan, the film is worthwhile for its backstage look at how American shows are translated abroad.
• Below are two YouTube clips, the first a very funny scene from near the end of the episode (spoiler: the suitcase is still there). The second is a scene from which someone has clumsily tried to remove all of the live audience's laughter. I've seen this experiment done with other sitcoms, including Friends, and it can be kind of eerie, but I don't know what the point is supposed to be. You can take any president giving a State of the Union speech and strip out the applause so he looks like an idiot whenever he stops to acknowledge what is now silence. If you're contemptuous of the sound of people laughing, you're not really much of a comedy fan.