As he stood on the stage accepting his Golden Globe for best Actor in a Musical or Comedy, Ramy Youssef joked, “I know you guys haven’t seen my show.” Following a raucous laughter, he continues, “We made a very specific show about and Arab Muslim family living in New Jersey. It means so much to be recognized by all of you for the hard work we put in.”
It seems like a pretty run of the mill acceptance speech but considering all the Islamophobia being spewed by the President and his followers, Ramy is nothing short of a revelation. Youssef gives the audience a truly honest look what life was like for him growing up Muslim in America.
A growing trend in Hollywood seems to be this type of semi-biographical show that allows the creator to highlight their personal life experiences. This creates a truly real experience for the viewer and helps us connect with the characters. Shows like Master of None, Dave, and Louie also followed this sort of format.
Youssef, who plays the titular Ramy in the show, is caught up in a young-adult search for identity. Is he a good person? He practices his faith earnestly, if not to the T. He doesn’t drink or do drugs but he finds pre-marital sex ok. His buddies Mo and Ahmed, the comic relief for the show, razz him for taking Ramadan seriously since they have a more casual relationship to the religion. His close friend Steve, who has Muscular Dystrophy, is another hilarious tertiary character and great sounding board for Ramy.
The show does a great balancing act of staying grounded in comedy and tackling more serious issues that are prevalent in the Arab culture. The fourth episode flashes us back to a 12 year old Ramy on Sept 11, 2001. Could you imagine being in a NYC area school as a Muslim as those news reports started rolling in? The episode does a fantastic job highlighting the isolation he felt on that day and in the months/years after. At the same time, however, it does share some more comical anecdotes surrounding a boy going through puberty and exploring the depths of the internet.
Two other episodes break from the overarching plotline to give us closer looks at the other members of Ramy’s family. His sister, Dena (May Calamawy), is frustrated about the strict limitations on her activity vs. Remy’s relative freedom to do what he wants (A great commentary on the paternal culture many Muslims are accustomed to). The next episode, focusing on Ramy’s mother Maysa (Hiam Abbass, in a masterful performance highlighting her character’s loneliness as a mother of grown children and as an immigrant), seriously had me crying.
It just goes to show that good TV does not have to be comfort food. Shows that challenge us and make us uncomfortable can be just as good. It helps us break down what we think we know and can build a bridge of understanding to someone else’s reality.
After binging all 10 episodes on Friday, I cannot wait for season two to drop at the end of May. They just released the trailer which includes the GOAT Mahershala Ali as Ramy’s new mentor and a cameo by Mia Khalifa. Highly recommended watch for all my Hulu peeps out there. Let me know what you think!
Until next time…