When Russia needs sitcoms, it looks to the U.S.A. for material, and as confirmed by the success of overseas adaptations of The Nanny and Who’s the Boss?, crap translates. Exporting Raymond details Everybody Loves Raymond creator Philip Rosenthal’s odyssey attempting to bring his beloved series to Moscow, a process fraught with predictable culture-clash frictions that Rosenthal’s nonfiction film depicts but rarely investigates.
At the center of this portrait of contradictory comedic tastes is Rosenthal, who, whether on screen or narrating, engages in his own type of sitcomy performance, cracking one-liners when not faux-ruminating on the transportability of family-centric humor. He’s interested in entertaining rather than enlightening, which can also be said of the proceedings as a whole. Jokey and slight even at moments of apparent crisis, this frivolous doc is far less interested in examining the tensions between Rosenthal and Russian counterparts like the show’s frustrated director and the network’s grim Head of Comedy—a hostility born from both the Russians’ refusal to understand Everybody Loves Raymond‘s everyday minutia-obsessed concerns, and from Rosenthal’s headstrong desire to make a carbon-copy of his original show—than in simply getting a few meager yuks from its subject’s fish-out-of-water experiences.
Thus, Rosenthal’s standoff with a costume designer who wants to dress the characters in inappropriately fashionable designs is played merely for condescending laughs at the woman’s expense, with the film avoiding any consideration of the cultural context from which her suggestions derive. And instead of providing significant background on the differences between the two countries’ entertainment industries, key details—such as the fact that Russian scriptwriters must toil away on numerous shows at once—are skimmed over, while copious time is squandered on Rosenthal’s unrelated relationship with his driver/bodyguard.
With Rosenthal himself rarely exhibiting any genuine desire to bend his work to more closely fit a Russian mold (this despite a few token concessions to “understanding” his hosts), Exporting Raymond proves a formless travelogue which attempts to enforce structure through cutesy narration that culminates with a forced message about the similarities and differences between Them and Us. After incessant casting sessions, dinners with dour network big shots, a get-together in which Rosenthal bonds with a Russian producer’s family by Skyping with his own techno-bumbling parents, and a pilot shoot that works out for the best, the only real lesson learned is that, regardless of nationality, domestic sitcom pap is a universal language.