Not Letting Baggage (or a Suitcase Full of Cheese) Win

With over a dozen Emmy wins and ratings that kept it within the “top ten most-watched shows” list for five out of its nine seasons, Everybody Loves Raymond was undeniably one of the most successful sitcoms of the 90’s/early 2000’s. So, why isn’t it talked about more? Sure, the show still airs daily in reruns and has an active Facebook page to go along with it, but considering its considerable accolades it is definitely not discussed, referred to on Buzzfeed or Tweeted about nearly as much as, say, Friends.

When I ask someone if they have seen Friends I generally hear one of the following: “Not really, but I’d like to watch it more” or “OMG YES I WATCH IT ALL THE TIME! I AM CHANDLER, CHANDLER IS ME.” On the other hand, when I ask the same of Everybody Loves Raymond, I usually hear more casual responses along the lines of “watching it sometimes.” Of course, I understand the love for Friends. It is my favorite show and it is no exaggeration to say that I can identify any episode within moments and quote it word for word. But here’s the thing: I can do the same with Everybody Loves Raymond.

Maybe I can more often personally identify with the characters in Friends because, like them, I am a twenty-something living in New York City, but Everybody Loves Raymond is all about family and my real-life experience of watching the show has always been tied to my family. When I was younger, I actively watched it with my parents. By the time I reached high school, my maternal grandmother discovered a love for the show and to this day it remains one of our most fond bonding experiences. Then, of course, there is the fact that I am half-Italian and often joke that my paternal grandmother is like Marie Barone (in the “makes amazing food way”, not “intrusive” way, thankfully).

I may not be married with kids, nor do I have an older policeman brother or a father who frequently screams “holy crap”, but its deeper themes have always resonated with me. In fact, this blog was originally supposed to be exclusively dedicated to Everybody Loves Raymond before I thought expanding it would be fun. Of course, that does not mean I will not still write posts showing why I love it––the following episode seems like a good place to start.

Sitcom Study: Everybody Loves Raymond’s “Baggage” (7×22)

Relevant Episode Information: Ray and Debra return home from a weekend getaway, but one thing remains from their vacation even as the weeks pass: the suitcase they brought with them, which remains on the staircase. Both passive-aggressively refuse to move it, believing it is the other’s person “place” to do so.

If one of the greatest debates within the Friends fandom is whether or not Ross and Rachel’s presumed and infamous “break” made it okay for Ross to sleep with Chloe the Copy Girl (I’ll get to that in a future post), one of the great debates in the Everybody Loves Raymond fandom is probably the one in this episode: Was it Ray or Debra’s “place” to move the suitcase?

One of my favorite things about Everybody Loves Raymond is the fact that, in most cases, whenever two characters are fighting there is a valid reason for both parties to feel hurt or upset. For example, in “Ray’s Journal”, Ray has every right to feel that his mother Marie violated his privacy by reading his journal when he was a child. At the same time, it is understandable that viewers (especially those who are parents) will sympathize with Marie when she reads Ray’s entry: “I ehat (his not-so-secretive code for “hate”) my mom.” In “Baggage”, both Ray and Debra have valid reasons for not wanting to be “the one to move the suitcase”, but this is only a small part as to why this episode is so intriguing and worth analyzing.

In the beginning of the episode, Ray explains the suitcase situation to his brother, Robert. Ray explains how he believes that, at this point, Debra is deliberately refusing to move the suitcase in order to “wait him out” and “win.” He then adds that she is “gonna be waiting a long time.” Robert has the logical, incredulous response: “This is insane…you’ve had a two-week fight over a suitcase.” Ray insists that it is not a fight since they have not actually been arguing and ups the stakes by filling the suitcase with cheese. Meanwhile, Ray’s father Frank urges Ray to not back down because whoever moves the suitcase will symbolically be the one who “wears the pants” in the relationship. Later, Debra tells Frank that her anger over the situation stems from the fact that since she does “everything” around the house, it wouldn’t hurt Ray to move the suitcase up the flight of stairs. Finally, Marie urges Debra to move the suitcase to prove she is “the bigger person”, following a story about a similar fight she once had with Frank over a big fork and spoon. She memorably says: “Don’t let a suitcase full of cheese be your big fork and spoon.”

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            It is definitely a loaded episode with a great number of ideas to consider from each character’s perspective. I truly love Robert’s line about how ridiculous a “two-week fight over a suitcase” is. He is right. Actually, the idea of any fight between two individuals lasting two weeks (especially when about something as inconsequential as a suitcase) is ridiculous. Obviously, it is understandable that the people involved may want some time (maybe a few hours or a couple of days) to calm down and reconsider their feelings about the fight. But “taking space” about the same issue beyond a couple of days? That solves nothing.

Whether the fight is with a colleague, a significant other or a friend, completely avoiding the other person (not to mention the original disagreement) for too long leads nowhere positive and usually implies one of two scenarios: “I haven’t been mad for days but my stubborn desire to ‘win’ this fight by not being the one to talk first is more important to me than solving this” or “I’m still mad and obviously am okay with losing you over this, otherwise I would say something.” If you can honestly and sincerely assess yourself to the point where you realize that neither scenario matches how you have been feeling and that you truly want to mend fences, the solution is simple: speak to the person directly.

“Baggage”, if albeit a bit indirectly, also deals with the notion of how a “little fight” is usually not about that one fight at all. In the heat of the moment, it can be easy to think that your frustration with the other person really is about, say, a suitcase. When you take the time to truly consider it, however, you will usually realize that the “little fight” merely symbolizes a more general, often deeper frustration. For instance, Debra’s comment that she feels she does “everything” around the house complements a repeated theme in the show concerning how Debra often feels unappreciated and wishes Ray would help out more. There are definitely episodes throughout the series where Debra directly explains her feelings to Ray and he understands. For comedic effect, Ray’s helpfulness typically does not last too long. In real life, of course, directly telling someone why a particular issue upsets you so much ideally garners a more lasting understanding.

Finally, there is Marie’s humorous yet poignant line: “Don’t let a suitcase full of cheese be your big fork and spoon.” Probably one of my favorite lines in the entire series, its message is vital and clear: do not let a minor disagreement weigh you down. Also, never fill a suitcase with cheese.

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4 thoughts on “Not Letting Baggage (or a Suitcase Full of Cheese) Win

  1. Great piece. I love how you addressed that “Raymond” is an underrated show. It really is. I have always enjoyed it and not many people I know talk about it. Each episode is filled with insights about relationships and petty arguments, such as the suitcase you focused on. “Raymond” is funny because it is s realistic.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Just stumbled on to your site. I enjoy your observations, especially re Everybody Loves Raymond, my favorite sitcom. Doctoral theses could be written (and probably have been) on this show’s profound observations about family life. (My wife and I have a running joke when we watch it together. Whenever Ray does something dumb she’ll give a look and I’ll respond with “I am not that guy!”)

    I’d be interested in your thoughts on sitcoms based on stand-up comedy acts. It seems to me there are two types. The first is shows where the persona of the lead comic is the driving force and all the supporting characters basically serve to “set up” the star. Roseanne and Home Improvement would be examples of this type. In my view, while these shows are funny, they get old quickly.

    The other — and, in my judgment, more appealing — type is those shows that start from the premise of the lead comic’s persona but are really great ensemble shows. Everybody Loves Raymond, Seinfeld and even Bob Newhart’s two shows (Newhart honed his “deadpan” shtick as a stand-up comic) fall into this category. I could watch any of these shows again and again. They never get old.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much, Larry. I really appreciate your kind comment and thank you for reading my posts; it’s also always great to hear from a fellow Raymond fan! 🙂 I agree that sitcoms based on stand-up comedy acts are interesting to watch and consider, especially since––as you pointed out––there are multiple versions of them; I’ll definitely have to tackle that tackle. There is definitely something special about ensemble sitcoms, I agree. 🙂

      Like

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