Ramy, a Hulu original, based on the life of a first generation Egyptian-American is a sharp telling of the dichotomy of being an immigrant. The comedy-drama mainly follows the complex and confused protagonist, Ramy Hassan (Ramy Youssef), who believes in black and white, while himself being as gray as gray could be.
An immigrant’s struggles with faith, religion and identity have previously been depicted in movies like The Big Sick and web series like Master of None. However, in the former, Kumail Nanjiani (playing himself) is not confused about his faith – he couldn’t care less. The conflict is more about the differences between him and his family. And, the latter starring Aziz Ansari, while dealing with the immigrant story, is more focused on the man child that he is. In that sense, Ramy goes all out in addressing the “good Muslim” question, not only for himself but also for his family. The series also gives us a sneak peek into all of them– his hyper mother, Maysa (Hiam Abbas), his tired father Farouk (Amr Vaked), his ambitious sister Dena (May Calamawy) & his lonely, snobbish uncle Naseem (Laith Nakli) – each with their own share of problems.
Throughout the course of the first season, Ramy is seeking answers to some not so easy questions. He is a devout Muslim but also a convenient one. In his own words, he is someone who wants to be at the Friday prayer and also the Friday party. He is self-indulgent, cannot resist developing a deeper connection with every girl he meets (even his cousin), and also quick to judge anyone not abiding by the good Muslim rule book. I could somehow see how Ramy is a Bojack Horseman Lite – not in his depression but in his self-serving, ungrateful nature, in his urge to seek refuge in other people, in his inability to introspect and his reckless, unsuccessful attempts in doing the right thing.
His quest for answers about his identity take him back to Egypt, in the final episodes of the first season. Nothing good however, comes out of that visit. He is shocked to meet his pro-Trump relatives & cousins who drink and smoke. He also finds it difficult to have any conversation about the Tahrir square revolution he has forever romanticized in his head, since the natives are not willing to relive the trauma. All in all, Egypt turns out to be different than he imagined & a personal tragedy manifests into asexual relationship with his cousin. The second season sees Mahershala Ali join the cast as the sheikh of a Sufi center, and Ramy yet again puts his all into seeking validation from a new enigmatic figure in his life. He tells the sheikh, “I only ever think about me, and I hate it.” He’s looking for a big inner transformation & like always, he’s desperate for an anchor which he believes the sheikh needs to be. The sheikh’s path to peace however, is not an easy one. This means giving up all his “vices” and turning into what is known as a good Muslim.
His personal arc, frankly, becomes exhausting in the second season’s initial episodes. As a viewer, it becomes difficult to root for a protagonist who is so confused. This is when the family members’ stories come to the rescue. The single episode POV format of the show gives enough opportunity for the other characters to shine. His father Farouk, who occasionally changes his name to Frank for social acceptance, moved to USA for the big American dream. He often wonders how that decision panned out and severed ties with his own father back home. In one of the best scenes, he tells Ramy that a father always lives in the future, so that his children can live in the present. On the other hand, his mother Maysa, dealing with the lack of a social life takes to driving for a cab service – her way to find some new people to talk to. Her mid life crisis gives the show its strongest episodes in both seasons. Her continuous efforts to evolve as a person are particularly endearing and also a source of much comic relief. And, Hiam Abbas powers it with a heartfelt performance. Even the episode featuring Ramy’s uncle Naseem, for me served as a foreboding of what Ramy himself might turn into, if he doesn’t correct his course soon. Naseem, on the surface is racist, misogynist and everything else you can think. But his biggest flaw -his selfishness, over the years distanced everyone away from him and that’s a trait his nephew happens to share as much, if not more.
Ultimately, what makes Ramy powerful is how it manages to stay non-judgmental of its protagonist, and also steer away from him when it becomes overwhelming. The show provides no answers to any question he asks, and it’s best that way.
You can catch both seasons of Ramy on Amazon Prime Video.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.