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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

In the Spotlight: The Voronins

In sitcom world, the policemen are jolly and journalists can easily afford to live in spacious Stalin-era apartments. But in the harsh new world of Channel One drama, the bailiff is knocking and there’s no chance of help from Elvira Nabiullina.

This week, CTC’s new sitcom “The Voronins” — a version of “Everybody Loves Raymond” — went head to head with “Dormitory Suburb,” a new family drama on Channel One that is more like the gritty British soap opera “EastEnders.”

The makers of “Dormitory Suburb” promise that “nothing is made up. Only real stories and modern problems.” That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it is groundbreaking for a channel that once ran a show about a policeman with a talking dog.

Ilya comes back to visit his family after disappearing for 17 years. He has made lots of money in some unspecified — and possibly illicit way — while his brother Andrei toils away at a car repair shop and his mother, Anna Nikolayevna, works at the checkout in a supermarket.

Andrei gets a visit from a debt collector who reminds him that he has skipped payments on a loan for two months. “I took out the loan before the crisis,” Andrei complains. “You need to go to the [Economic Development] minister, to Mrs. Nabiullina. They’re working on a plan for small businesses,” the debt collector says sardonically, telling him to pay up in two weeks. Ilya swans in with his iPhone and offers Andrei a briefcase full of crisp dollars, but in a heroic gesture, Andrei refuses. “At your age, that’s practically a medical diagnosis,” Ilya remarks unpleasantly.

After buying a swanky apartment at a nearby luxury high-rise, Ilya invites all his family for a dinner with waiter service. But only his mother turns up. Meanwhile, there’s trouble at the Little Basket supermarket, as the new management is bringing in redundancies and Anna Nikolayevna’s colleague at the checkout has a nasty glint in her eye.

It’s a relief to switch over to “The Voronins,” which is a remake of “Everybody Loves Raymond” — a sitcom about a sports journalist with a wife and children who lives across the road from his parents and policeman brother.

In the Russian version, the families live in adjoining apartments in a Stalin-era block and even share a balcony. The journalist, Kostya, has cosy chats with his wife, Vera, in their IKEA bed and worries that she is too good for him. She wears pretty dressing gowns, hangs up endless laundry for their three children and loves crying over “Titanic.”

Next door, his overweight policeman brother, Lyonya, lives with their pension-age parents. “It’s just a temporary thing,” he tells a pretty nurse who comes to treat his back pain. He’s a nice policeman who plays with his niece and nephews (two painfully cute blond twins) and doesn’t bring home any briefcases full of crisp dollars.

The brothers compete to please their irascible father, who tells off Kostya for spending “half my pension” on an expensive aquarium as a birthday present. Things go wrong when one of the tropical fish dies and Kostya worries that he is reminding his father of his mortality — but of course he’s more interested in the sport on television.

The elderly parents spar — the wife buys her husband a mohair sweater and warns him that she bought it on sale and can’t take it back. “No return or exchange, that’s what her father told me on our wedding day,” he jokes.

There’s no harsh wind of modernity here. When Kostya’s father grumbles about the tropical fish, he says, “I feel the same way about the fish as I do about the world economic crisis: I don’t give a toss.”