Can you believe it?'' asks Ray Romano. ''See what it has come to?'' He's talking about the costume shiny, rust-colored pants, a straw porkpie hat, and a black polyester shirt with beige Medusa heads that he's got on for the Nov. 28 episode of CBS' The King of Queens (Mondays, 8 p.m.). Or at least we think that's what he's talking about.
He's got a point: The getup is heinous! But his reason for wearing it is pretty legit: Romano will reprise his role as Ray Barone on Queens for a boys' night out hence the swingers' duds with his old buddy Doug, played by Kevin James. Their wives busy elsewhere, the men go to a bar where they expect to have trouble avoiding the opposite sex until they discover that the opposite sex is fine avoiding them. ''When it doesn't happen,'' explains Romano, ''we start asking, What's wrong with us? It's a matter of principle.''
For James, Romano's fourth appearance on Queens is less about boosting viewership (the CBS sitcom routinely wins its time period) than about hanging with a fellow comic he's known for 12 years. ''We're not like Will & Grace. We don't go crazy with stunt casting,'' insists James. (It's true. Unlike the NBC guestfest, Queens tends to go more for the occasional Florence Henderson or Vanna White moment.) ''Ray Romano is not really stunt casting.''
''It is pity casting,'' deadpans Romano.
''We felt bad for him,'' continues James. ''We call him and he answers the phone. It's sad.''
He's kidding sort of. Other than occasional charity gigs, ''this is it,'' Romano says of the Queens appearance. Even talks about a Raymond spin-off for 2006 starring Brad Garrett which would surely have involved appearances by Romano are at an impasse. But don't go crying for this Barone brother; it's not like Romano didn't make a bajillion dollars playing a lovable lug for nine years. ''It's weird that I'm doing this and I'm not on my stage,'' says Romano, who wrapped Raymond production last winter. ''There's a little surrealness to it. It's fun, but it reminds me of what I miss.''
James could soon be in the same boat. His Queens contract expires this May, and James who got a taste of the film life by costarring in last year's hit comedy Hitch hasn't figured out if he'll do a ninth season (nor has CBS yet asked for one). ''We're deciding that now. I don't want to make the wrong move. I know I would miss it,'' admits James. ''We've been here longer than college and high school. To not have that...''
Now, that's where Romano can sympathize. ''You just sit home,'' he warns, ''and say, 'Hmm, I've never seen that freckle!'''