Everybody Loves Raymond premiered 25 years ago this week. While it didn’t have the most auspicious start, it only grew sharper in later seasons, becoming a top-rated Emmy powerhouse. Each person in the main cast won at least won award (except for the late Peter Boyle, who was robbed), and it’s played in syndication for years. It’s the last great multi-cam sitcom. Though others may claim that – heavy sigh – The Big Bang Theory or Last Man Standing hold that distinction, nothing was quite so good for so long as the saga of the Barones. Below are my 10 favorite episodes, and you may notice quite a few overlapping themes.
10. “Halloween Candy” (Season 3, Episode 6)
For a show as family friendly as this, sex was a frequent topic of discussion. Unlike Married with Children (which was still on the air at the time Raymond debuted) or future knock-offs, sex between husband and wife was never presented as a chore or something to be avoided. In this episode, Debra tasks Ray with being in charge of contraception (“the stuff”). He brings home a colorful variety pack for Halloween, hoping to rush through trick-or-treating to use them. But mistaking them for candy, Frank (as Frankenstein) hands them out to eager kids, creating multiple disasters.
9. “Cookies” (Season 6, Episode 15)
When Ray attempts to help Ally sell her (not quite) Girl Scout Cookies, it ignites a turf war with the leader of the troop (guest star Amy Aquino). While the episodes focusing on the kids weren’t always the best, this one stands above, as the parents devolve into territorial children.
8. “No Fat” (Season 3, Episode 10)
No show was as obsessed with food as this one. So when Marie goes on a health kick just in time for Thanksgiving, everyone is understandably upset about the lack of a traditional feast. The big scene at the dinner table delivers the show’s best physical comedy, as each family member takes turns trying the wobbly vegan “turkey.”
7. “Marie’s Meatballs” (Season 2, Episode 15)
The show was able to mine so much humor out of mundane situations because its characters took those things way too seriously. That gave the show just enough stakes for every episode, but kept things from ever getting dire. (Thank God this show never attempted a “very special episode.”) But few betrayals were as shocking, unexpected and hilarious as this one. After getting some of Marie’s beloved recipes, Debra’s attempts to recreate them go horribly awry. That’s because Marie has secretly sabotaged her culinary efforts, leading to a priceless confrontation.
6. “Marie’s Sculpture” (Season 6, Episode 5)
I still can’t believe they got away with this one. While there’s an outdated joke or two, this is one of the most uproarious half-hours. Marie unveils the artwork she’s been toiling away at for months. And while it’s undoubtedly good work, its appearance is a little, well, you know. While Frank fixates on it, the rest of the family looks for a way to get rid of it, all while hoping not to avoid the artist’s feelings.
5. “The Canister” (Season 5, Episode 19)
Frank was the most cantankerous of the bunch, but occasionally he revealed what a big softie he was. He’s at his sweetest here when he covers for Debra. After swearing up and down that she returned Marie’s canister, Ally discovers it in her room. Debra considers going on the lam to avoid the fury, but Frank takes the heat. As crazy as the family drove each other, it was moments like these that made clear their affection was genuine.
4. “The Angry Family” (Season 6, Episode 1)
This wasn’t the first or last time the show did an “airing of grievances” episode, but it was the best. After Michael reads a story for his class about the “Angry Family,” everyone wonders if they’ve been a little too quick-tempered. Their family counseling with their priest (the late great Charles Durning) has more laughs than many shows have in entire episodes.
3. “She’s the One” (Season 7, Episode 9)
One of the strangest episodes any multi-cam ever produced (unless you count the utterly bizarre final season of Brad Garrett’s follow-up sitcom ‘Til Death). Robert finally meets a sensational woman (guest star Elizabeth Bogush) who’s genuinely into him, has a great personality and tolerates his family. Things are going great until Ray observes her catching and eating a fly. The final half of the episode is just one insane revelation after another, culminating in a finale that sets Robert up on the path to happiness.
2. “The Sneeze” (Season 5, Episode 10)
This side-splitter takes on new meaning in the age of COVID. After Ray gets sneezed on at the airport (“You could have anything from anywhere,” Marie says ominously), he milks his sick day for all its worth, despite the vaguest of symptoms. Debra’s meltdown after catching Ray eating pizza and playing basketball with the guys is punctuated by one of the funniest phone calls in sitcom history.
1. “Baggage” (Season 7, Episode 22)
The only writing Emmy the show ever received was for this brilliant piece of TV. After a long vacation, Ray and Debra both refuse to lug their big suitcase upstairs and unpack, leading to a silent standoff that goes on for weeks. Inspired by writer Tucker Cawley’s real life, it proves sometimes truth is sometimes funnier than fiction.