Producer-writer-director Phil Rosenthal had an inspired idea when he was invited to adapt his long-running sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond for the Russian market: take a camera crew along. Those are good comic instincts, and the resulting documentary, Exporting Raymond, is a regularly hilarious portrait of culture shock and the universal (or not) properties of the TV sitcom. After the U.S. Raymond completed its run, and in the wake of a successful Russian version of The Nanny, it seemed natural enough for Rosenthal to journey to Moscow (and a suspiciously dark, foreboding film studio) to oversee the newly discovered business of the Russian sitcom. Since the team is working from the original Raymond scripts, and that show was a huge hit, it should be no problem, right?
Soon enough, Rosenthal runs into humorless network executives, a glammed-up costume designer who believes the working-class characters should be dressed in chic outfits, and unmarried writers who can’t understand why the show’s put-upon hero wouldn’t simply assert himself in his marriage. Still, everybody sincerely wants to make Everybody Loves Costya, and the process of casting and rewriting is hugely entertaining to watch. Rosenthal himself proves a dab hand with a deadpan one-liner, and he’s got a good eye for the poignant detail (such as his Russian chauffeur, who once dreamed of studying marine biology but was derailed into the military at an early age). Rosenthal’s trump card is pure Americana: a couple of appearances by his own parents, who are still figuring out the Internet. Now that’s comedy gold.