Defining family values

A comedy gave room for some serious issues, writes Brendan O’Regan

A woman talks to her husband about going to Mass: “I go to thank God for you and the kids …I go to get re-energised, to be part of something that’s bigger than me.”  

Guess where that quote came from! Well, it was from an episode of US sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond (pictured – in repeats, Channel 4, every morning). An episode last Thursday had the family trying to get Raymond to go back to church more regularly (reminiscent of a famous Simpsons episode where Marge tries the same with Homer). It looked like Ray, who, when pressed by wife Debra, said he was still a Catholic, was lapsed from sheer laziness, but tried to make lame excuses – sore knees and poor concentration! A sports writer, he lamented that Mass and sport were both on Sunday (a problem here too!). He gets a hard time about it from his wife, children, mother and father, who seem disappointed in their failure to pass on a strong faith. Finally they get him to commit to going every Sunday, and he likes it, but messes with his brother in church (familiar scenario?) and is dismayed to find his father barely attends, content merely to act as usher and count the collection money. Veteran actor Charles Durning does a fine job as the priest (as he had done in another recent episode when he gave sound marriage advice) – he was deadpan, even a tad grumpy, but glad to see Ray back in the fold. All in all it was respectful, thought provoking, surprisingly serious at times and, rather important for a comedy, very funny.

Normally religion doesn’t figure that prominently, but also last week there was another episode that had a related theme. Debra’s sister had decided to become a nun and breaks the news to her incredulous family – it seems she has been a flighty and unsettled woman up to now (shades of a similar character in the BBC’s comedy Outnumbered) and people assume this will just be a phase. There were some predictable situations, nun jokes, characters saying awkward graces at mealtime just because the sister who was a sister was there. What impressed me most was how the sister was portrayed – she had thought deeply about her life, was very secure in her vocation and came across as the most level-headed character in that episode. Debra took it badly, and Ray thought it was because she would no longer be the ‘good sister’ of her family, but in a brief but touching moment it turned out that what was really bothering her was that she wouldn’t see much of her already frequently absent sister from now on, as she was going on the missions to Zaire. The show rarely lets sentiment get too strong a foothold, so even in serious moments a joke is never far away.

The values and outlook of the show are not always consistent, possibly because there are so many writers, and sometimes casual affairs (not adultery) are treated in a lighthearted manner that doesn’t reflect the seriousness of the behaviour, but there’s a strong sense of the extended family (with all its warts, and this family has plenty), a basic decency, and an unerring feel for the ordinary, funny and serious things that go on in real families. It maintains a high standard of observational humour, rather like what Seinfelddid for the singles scene.

On a more serious note, but also touching on families, Prime Time (Tuesday of last week) featured a discussion on legislative moves to allow same-sex couples to adopt as couples. The debate was thought provoking and well balanced – it has seemed to me of late that this whole discussion is, in general, being handed with much more maturity and impartiality that we’re used to.

It was remarkably free of the ‘homophobic’ charge until near the end when a member of the audience threw it in. Presenter David McCullough asked tough questions of both sides, and when he pressed Gráinne Healy of ‘Marriage Equality’ to answer a question from Iona’s John Murray, as to whether it mattered that the adults looking after the children were a mother and father, he finally got a telling and astonishing admission – ‘Well not in terms of the child’s developmental milestones, no it does not matter’. So much for the significance of gender!


Pick of the Week



RTÉ Lyric FM Sun 8 Dec 8.00am

Masterpieces by Mozart, William Byrd, Lassus and Monteverdi, with The Sixteen singing James MacMillan and Marian motets by Bruckner.


The God Slot

RTÉ Radio 1 Fri 6 Dec 10.02pm

Bishop Brendan Leahy of Limerick and Brendan Butler of We Are Church discuss the Popeís Apostolic Exhortation.



EWTN Tues 10 DEC 9am, and Wed 11 Dec 10.30pm

Dana welcomes Christian musician Michael Card to the show for some inspirational music and conversation.