After eight seasons, we know these characters like our own family members. So, much of each episode's comedy is built upon our anticipation of how they will react to each other, as when Marie catches Raymond and Debra in an escalating series of lies or when the Barones share Thanksgiving with Amy's more uptight family, who, she observes at one point, "wouldn't yell if they were on fire." In one of the season's best episodes, Debra seizes on a rift between Marie and family newcomer Amy over thank-you notes to shift the balance of power from the manipulative and Machiavellian Marie (as always, a losing battle).
Raymond is one of those rare sitcoms that stayed on top of its game during its nine-year run. This penultimate season is filled with classic episodes and priceless moments. The incisive and intimately observed writing, brought to life by the peerless, Emmy-winning ensemble, could turn on a dime from funny to genuinely moving. In "Golf for It," the season finale, Raymond and Robert pull an all-nighter waiting for a tee-time. Their conversation turns to the indomitable Marie, and which of the brothers will care for her in her dotage. Marriage, as Paul Rudd's character observes in Knocked Up, "is like a tense, unfunny version of Everybody Loves Raymond." But the secret to Raymond's enduring success is that it's funny because it's true. --Donald Liebenson