NEW YORK – Raymond flirted with the great beyond as one of TV's most beloved sitcoms came to an end after nine laugh-filled seasons.
"I think I saw a light," the flustered Raymond declared on the "Everybody Loves Raymond" (search) finale Monday.
He hadn't died, of course. But after routine surgery to remove his adenoids, a brief delay in his waking from the anesthesia got the excitable Barones agitated over what it would be like to actually lose him.
"For 30 seconds, you all thought I might be dead," Raymond said when his family told him what happened. Then a sly smile crept across his face as he prepared to make the most of their scare. "What did everybody do?"
So went the finale that — in its indirect way — addressed viewers, too, who now are losing Raymond after the CBS (search) series' 210 episodes.
It was a typical outing, sweetened with just a little farewell tenderness — in Raymond's throat (which, after the surgery, he was nursing with ice cream) and in the hearts of the usually bickering Barones.
But just a little. "Raymond" was a comedy that, even at the end, wouldn't think of going soft on the domestic tensions that united Raymond (Ray Romano) with his wife Debra (Patricia Heaton), his meddling parents Frank and Marie (Peter Boyle and Doris Roberts), and his sad-sack brother Robert (Brad Garrett).
A family man stuck in adolescence, Raymond as usual played his long-suffering wife against his over-adoring mom.
"You'll just have to have it done," Debra said on learning he would need to have the surgery.
"Is that it? That's your attitude?" Raymond fired back, indignant that she wasn't more upset.
Marie, by contrast, had a fit.
"They want to take a piece of my Raymond away!" she wailed.
Frank was as crusty and uninformed as ever. Downplaying Raymond's procedure, he told him to "just go in, drop your drawers, bing-bang-boom!"
"Do you even know where the adenoids are, Dad?" asked exasperated Robert.
"Sure," replied Frank. "Around back, with the rest of the 'oids."
It was nine years ago this month that "Everybody Loves Raymond" was announced as part of CBS' new fall lineup. But when the series was unveiled for advertisers at Carnegie Hall, its star, then a little-known standup comedian, cracked up the gathering by bidding them farewell.
"This is going to be my last year on the show," he quipped. "We said it all in the pilot."
Not quite. But the pilot episode set the tone from which the show never strayed. When Raymond bought his parents a Fruit of the Month Club subscription, the good turn inevitably backfired. They demanded: How could he do this to them? All the pressure of eating a year's worth of fruit! And besides, was this "club" some kind of cult?
"Like we don't have enough problems!" Frank squawked.
"Raymond" weathered an uncertain start in fall 1996 in its Friday slot, but caught fire a few months later after moving to Monday, where it became a viewing ritual for millions.
With no recent sitcoms making such a splash (only CBS' "Two and a Half Men" is in the top 20), "Raymond" leaves viewers wondering (and not for the first time): Is the sitcom dead?
But as the series reached its conclusion, Ray and Debra, enjoying a rare moment alone, were clearly full of life — and awkward affection.
"You like me," he told her with a sheepish grin.
"You like me, too," she replied.
Then they ended up in bed, where Raymond had been recuperating from his surgery, for a little hanky-panky.
"And after we get done," he said happily, a boy-man to the finish, "we get to have ice cream."