In defense of Ray Romano
Ray Romano tends to get a bad rap. And it’s time for that to change.
On Friday, HBO announced that Ray Romano is the latest actor to be added to the cast of the upcoming New York-set drama about 1970s rock and roll from Martin Scorsese, Mick Jagger, and Terence Winter. Ray Romano isn’t rock and roll, you may contest. And you may be right — Ray Romano, the person, may be not be “rock and roll.” But Ray Romano the actor? He’s got the talent to be the toughest music exec we’ve ever seen.
It’s easy to dismiss Romano because he starred in Everybody Loves Raymond, everyone’s not-quite-favorite sitcom, for nine seasons. But he’s better than that, and we have his role in Parenthood to prove it.
Romano joined the cast of the NBC family drama back in 2012 as a potential love interest for Sarah Braverman (Lauren Graham). He was gruff, he was quiet, he was definitely not Everybody Loves Raymond‘s Raymond. Over the course of his time on the series, Romano’s has shown his capabilities as an actor as his character morphed from Sarah’s boss, to her boyfriend, to her ex, to Max Braverman’s (Max Burkholder) mentor struggling to navigate his social issues that may be caused by Asperger’s.
On a show like Parenthood full of great acting — Monica Potter’s cancer-stricken Kristina Braverman was award-worthy and Craig T. Nelson is, well, Craig T. Nelson — it can be hard to stand out. Yet Romano gives Hank such a matter-of-fact bluntness, such an unaware awkwardness that Hank has become the highlight of any scene he’s in. And that scene-stealing ability is something he can, and probably will, bring to the HBO drama.
Not convinced? Check out some of his best Parenthood scenes below:
While reading a book about Asperger’s to better understand Max, Hank realizes that many of the things discussed in the book also apply to him. He immediately heads to Sarah’s apartment, busts in with no greeting, and frantically tells her what he thinks he just discovered about himself. It’s heartbreaking to watch him come to this realization, but somehow, also uplifting — he shows such enthusiasm when ordering Sarah to look at certain passages of the book, and it’s so unlike the typical, mumbling Hank and foreshadows a coming (positive!) change in him. This is Hank showing emotion — real, raw emotion — and it’s powerful.
Hank barely knows Amber (Mae Whitman), but he takes her on an impromptu hours-long drive to see her ex-fiancee in the hospital anyway. It’s a big moment for his character, especially because he’s not the most affectionate person even with people he knows. Instead of looking completely at peace with Amber sleeping on him, though, he wiggles around and shows the discomfort on his face. Hank is very obviously trying to change, but Romano makes sure that the inner Hank — the grumpy one, the unenthused one, the real one — shines through, however subtly.
Sarah may be the reason Hank came into the world of the Bravermans (Bravermen?), but his relationship with Max is where Romano’s acting is the strongest. Because of Asperger’s, Max can be difficult to communicate with, and while even his own family loses patience with him from time to time, Hank usually talks to Max as if they’re old pals, because at this point they are old pals. In the scene above, one of the first that cements the relationship between the two, Romano’s Hank and Burkholder’s Max — typically two stilted characters — communicate so naturally that it’s the first time we feel like Max has finally found someone who understands him. And that someone is an adult, no less. It takes talent to portray someone who gets along easier with a child than with someone his own age, and Romano does that — and does it convincingly.
Ray Romano will always be Raymond Barone, but, thanks to Parenthood, he will also be Hank Rizzoli too. So what was that about Romano being the wrong guy for that HBO drama?