One Of The Funniest And Most Relevant Comedies Of The Year
Better Late Than Never: Ramy Season 2
I was so glad I actually got ahead of the game when watched the first season of Ramy a few months ago. An astonishing, often blisteringly funny show about a Muslim still living in New Jersey with his family, and not entirely happy with his faith or his life, Ramy spent much of Season 1 doing everything wrong: committing adultery, helping a wheelchair bound friend have sex with a teenager, going to Cairo looking for faith, and somehow having an affair with his cousin. When he returns to New Jersey in Season 2, he now can’t stop watching porn and is so desperate to save himself, he visits a completely different leader: a sheik. Somehow, he manages to make things worse for everybody in his path for enlightenment.
I must first comment on the exceptional, and deservedly Emmy nominated performance by Mahershala Ali as the sheik Ali continues to reach new levels that not even his previous work on House of Cards and True Detective could prepare us: showing the patience of the saint that Ramy seems to think he is, and genuine humor in how he approaches everything, something that has Ramy baffled at every turn. The problem is, Ramy tries so hard to follow the righteous path that he does what he does so much of the time and overcorrects. In the second episode, he tries to help a homeless man named Dennis that his friends tell him to avoid. We soon learn he’s an Iraqi vet with an extreme case of PTSD, but Ramy is so desperate to help him that he convinces the sheik to hire him to work at the mosque. Things seem to go well for awhile, but then Dennis insists on converting to Islam. During his ceremony, a group of protesters are outside. Ramy ignores the warning signs and within a few minutes, Dennis runs outdoors and beats one of the men into a coma — and everybody has their cell phones out.
In the next episode, everybody at the mosque is praying for the victim and only Ramy seems really uncomfortable. The victim’s brother is, if anything , just as bigoted as the group out there but that’s the least of Ramy’s problems. The sheik and Ramy then go to visit Dennis in prison where he tells him his concern for his dog. This leads to another trek for the poorest sections of the town, with the sheik and Ramy still trying to pull away. Then, in one of the most remarkable moments so far, while they are saying their evening prayers, they hear barking and find his car with the dog. But the sheik knows that Ramy has lied to him, and tells him to continue his training — with the dog.
You wouldn’t think a show that deals with such dark subject matter would still be blisteringly funny, but Ramy is. Ramy Youseff is clearly one of the great new talents to burst on the scene, and he manages to differentiate the way different Muslims see the world, even within his own family. When he asks questions about how the meal is prepared at a family dinner, his mother is hurt, and his father doesn’t understand why he’d rather undergo religious teaching than watch Shark Tank. His sister Dina is supportive — but that may be because she’s met the sheik and is obviously attracted to him. His friends are constantly dissuading him about how good a Muslim he should be, and it’s amazing the ways Ramy’s attempts to be better just end up backfiring spectacularly.
When I reviewed Ramy’s first season, I initially put forth the idea that despite almost every major character being Muslim, there was a universality to the show that I thought would appeal to everybody. It’s harder to make that argument having seen the entire first season and a good part of the second, but I still think it holds up. Yes, there are very particular rules for how being a Muslim in America is, but it’s hard not to see the connections between the way so many Christians and Jews react to their beliefs — the ultra faithful and the ones who convert quickly. I have a feeling that a lot of the conversations that Ramy and his friends have about faith are talked about in different contexts involving many other religions — and in a way, that’s heartening to see on television too.
I was somewhat disappointed that both seasons of Ramy that aired were mostly shut out by the Emmys — though their were deserved nominations for Youseff and Ali. It was clearly one of the best comedies of the last year and deserved to be considered in the company of the eight shows that we’re nominated. I don’t know when the third season will premiere, but when it does, I will be waiting for it.
My score: 4.75 stars.