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'Raymond': Promising, Likable Show

THE NEW TV SEASON * One in a series


Yet another stand-up comic is heading a sitcom. This time it's Ray Romano in the CBS series "Everybody Loves Raymond."

Love, maybe not. But there's much to like, starting with Romano himself, who slips amusingly into the role of Raymond Barone, a sportswriter and father whose nemesis are the pushy, farcical Barones who live across the street--his own grating dad (Peter Boyle), his ever-critical, overbearing mother (Doris Roberts) and big doofus of a policeman brother (Brad Garrett).

Because Raymond hasn't the backbone to stop them, they relentlessly invade his house, even when no one's home, poking around and causing an ongoing rift between Raymond and his wife, Debra (Patricia Heaton), who detests her husband's family. Understandable, as they're easy to detest.

Hardly a prescription for a successful comedy, except that the cast, especially Boyle, Roberts and Garrett, are so good with this material and so adroitly translate their characters' dark natures into laughs that much of the snappily written initial episode works.

Its central crisis finds Raymond and Debra hoping to spend her birthday at home alone. Will the other Barones crash? Let the noise begin.

Even though its premise and characters may not wear well with time, this is a promising series that you can envision spending some time with. Love can come later.

* "Everybody Loves Raymond" premieres at 8:30 tonight on CBS (Channel 2).

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