A Funny, Often Scalding Look At A Neglected Minority for TV
Better Late Than Never: Ramy Season 1
When Ramy Youssef won this year’s Golden Globe for Best Lead Actor in a Comedy, I think it’s safe to say no one was more surprised then him. The first words out of his mouth were: “I know you didn’t watch my show.” And I confess to being one of the many among them thinking that this was another fluke from the Golden Globes like Gael Garcia Bernal winning for Mozart in the Jungle or Richard Madden winning for Bodyguard. Surely, Youssef was an outlier for a category that featured such veterans as Bill Hader and Michael Douglas. No need to even bother watching it.
But I’ve had a lot of time on my hands in lockdown, and with the countdown to the Emmy nominations getting closer, I thought I might try to get ahead of the curve instead of being so woefully behind it as I was last year with Fleabag and Russian Doll. So I’ve started watching the first season of Ramy. To say that I’m astounded by its quality would be an understatement.
In format, Ramy is not much different then so many of the other comic centered shows, such as Master of None, Insecure or the king of them Atlanta. The key difference is that Ramy is a member of the Muslim community. He fully admits in the Pilot he’s not a very good Muslim. He prays every day and believes in the basic principles, but he has a lot of sex with white girls, drinks and does weed. Also, everybody thinks Ramy is a slacker –especially his own family. And it’s not entirely without merit. Initially, he works as a start up that goes under at the end of the second episode. He still lives with his parents, even though he’s in his thirties. But he also struggles with his faith. In the mosque where he goes for his prayers, the imam chastises him for not washing between his toes. (None of your prayers probably counted, he says.) He says he wants to have a relationship with a Muslim woman, but when a date set up by his parent’s starts to go well, he can’t get over the fact of a certain fetish she wants him to do. (If you haven’t seen the series yet, you need to see it for this episode alone.). And he seems to believe in the concepts of his American community, but not in the system that his parent do.
What is particularly stunning about Ramy — and why I think it deserves to cross streaming and racial barriers — is how universal the themes are while remaining so strict to the principles of Muslim community. Ramy’s parents constantly drill on him to get married and to find a real job, which would be the same principles of any other sitcom — but for a key difference. When Ramy says he wants to follow his passion, his mother says bluntly: “Passion is for white people.” Ramy makes jokes about 9/11 on his date, saying that for him personally September 11th was a good day. And his younger sister, Dena, seems to be even less committed to finding her own way, only concerned about her brother when it might relate to her having to leave the house herself./
At the same time, Ramy goes to territory that even the best streaming hasn’t tried. When Ramy is forced to find a job with his Uncle Naseem, he says he doesn’t want to because his uncle is Anti-Semitic. (This leads to one of the greatest Mel Gibson jokes coming from the least likely source imaginable.) We meet Uncle Naseem, who works in the diamond district, and initially he is insufferable. He torments Dena, he insults gay people, and he launches a conspiracy theory of Princess Diana’s death that is so bizarre, you don’t know which is weirder: the outlandishness of it or that Ramy’s mother believes it. When Ramy drives Naseem to the train, he finally unloads on his uncle. And then, we see a woman and a man fighting. Naseem orders Ramy to pull over, pulls the man off, and then pulls a gun on him. Ramy is awed by this, but as it ends with the man and woman still driving off together, he asked what the point was. Naseem just said the action matters. “We don’t worry about the women because of the women,” he says. “We worry because of the men.” Of course, he finishes it with a stereotype so absurd that even Ramy has to admit it’s flawed.
I’ve spent the last few years basically ignoring Hulu as a source for original programming, raves for Hamdmaid’s Tale and Casual aside. But the last few months have more than demonstrated that they are more than worthy to compete in the Emmy battles as Netlfix and Amazon. Not only Youseff more than deserve to compete in what will be a crowded field for Best Actor in a Comedy, this series will some day compete in the Best Comedy category. Trust me, Ramy, people are watching your show now.
My score: 4.5 stars.