Someone had the unfortunate idea to hire a camera crew to document American TV producer Phil Rosenthal's adventures as a consultant to Russian television. The result is Exporting Raymond, a curious vanity production (because it makes the subject seem so squirrelly).
Rosenthal was the creator of Everybody Loves Raymond with comedian Ray Romano. While casting about for another project (in the wake of the hundreds of millions he made from the syndication of Raymond), he's approached to travel to Moscow, to - he thinks - participate in the casting, writing and production of a pilot for a Russian version of the show - Everybody Loves Kostya - based on an already existing episode of Raymond.
It would be more accurate to say that Rosenthal was invited to Russia to watch all of these processes occur, but not necessarily have actual input. The outcome, it rapidly becomes apparent to everyone except Rosenthal, is out of his hands in all appreciable ways.
The gag is supposed to be that Rosenthal never really gets this. But it's not really much of a joke. And Rosenthal, for all of the one-liners he babbles, never quite casts himself as the rube American being played by the slick Russians.
The obnoxious American? That's another story. Rosenthal assumes that all people laugh at the same things, as long as the humor is about something recognizably human. But he seems not to get that nuances vary by culture - or that another culture might communicate with each other in a manner different than Americans deal with each other.
So his perpetual carping - in the form of snide cracks that undoubtedly had them laughing in the writers' room in Hollywood - quickly and obviously begins to grate on his hosts. He's unhappy about the actor they choose for Kostya, the Raymond character - and unhappier still when the actor he prefers is under contract to the Moscow Art Theater (a job that takes precedence over a lowly TV sitcom).
This could actually be a funny feature film, in which, say, the American consultant doesn't realize that he's insulted the Russian producer so deeply that the producer wants the visiting American dead. It would be the kind of farce that, 70 years ago, Bob Hope might have hit out of the park.
But Rosenthal is just an unpleasant Yank who eventually is the Cassandra preaching doom and bad ratings. He's the last guy you want to have hanging around.
Comedy does lose something in the translation. Exporting Raymond, however, is less about the different comedy cultures and more about a simple human inability to be understood. Or perhaps it's just that human unwillingness to listen to something you don't want to hear.
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