Comedian Ramy Youssef navigates a life between two different cultures in a sensitive, funny and occasionally ingenious show
I dont know what Im doing, man, says Ramy, the alter-ego of 28-year-old comedian Ramy Youssef, to a stony kebab shop owner, also an elder at his north New Jersey mosque. Ramy is confused, recently jobless, stinging from a date with a Muslim woman that he botched by locking her into a chaste, wife-and-mother focused stereotype. He admires his parents immigrants from Egypt and Palestine and their unshakable faith in God; he has sex before marriage and will likely try mushrooms someday. And I believe in God. I really do, man theres too many signs, he reaches for words as the elder smokes. I mean, one time this girl texted me two minutes after I jerked off to her Facebook photo.
Ramys rambling search for clarity Im just, like, trying to be good. You really think God cares if I was between my toes? closes the first episode of his eponymous Hulu show with a sort of proto-thesis statement for the series, a monologue bridging the big spiritual questions with the mundane thought process of a twentysomething. (The shop owners answer? Ramy jerks off too much. No good). Hulus Ramy, inspired by Youssefs life as a Muslim American figuring out all the big things identity, job, romance in New Jersey, is, as Ramys justification for God suggests, less a redemptive quest for enlightenment than a sincere yet unflinching portrait of daily life as a religious and ethnic minority in America. Its in a similar vein to another recent Hulu offering, Shrill, which adapted writer Lindy Wests memoir as a plus-sized millennial navigating ambition and self-acceptance in world that implicitly judges her appearance as a lack of discipline.
The first few episodes of Ramy are a slow burn, establishing characters through low-key scenes (a family dinner, a diner catch-up) seemingly filtered through the foundations of a standup routine. Ramy gets lovingly, if somewhat ill-advisedly, grilled by his two best friends from the mosque, Mo and Ahmed (Mohammed Amer and Dave Meherje), for not settling down with a Muslim woman. He floats the idea of a romantic set-up at the dining room table, to the delight of his parents (Amr Waked and the lovely Hiam Abass), and chagrin of his independent and fire-tongued sister Dena (May Calamawy). He ponders Muslim Tinder options with coworker Steve (Steve Way, who has muscular dystrophy and has been Youssefs real-life best friend since fourth grade).
The early episodes, set firmly in Ramys POV, take a bit of time to settle into his idiosyncrasies, especially when his driving force is quarter-life indecision. The show flits through numerous contradictions Ramy is reasonably wary of a bombastic, antisemitic and misogynist uncle, yet goes to work for him in the diamond business, declines ecstasy at a party then impulsively tries weed but it takes time for them to compile into a portrait with momentum.
But the show finally kicks into gear in the excellent fourth episode, Strawberries, set entirely through the perspective of middle school Ramy on and after the 9/11 attacks, which turn his peers everyday middle school cruelty into American loyalty tests. Ramys foundations solidify as it moves beyond the center of its universe an episode on how Denas dating choices are hemmed by her parents expectations of chastity (no one asks where Ramy goes at night) on one end and festishization on the other threads a tight needle; another masterfully reveals his mothers stifled loneliness and steely charm through her stint as a Lyft driver. By the time the series travels to Egypt for two stellar concluding episodes, youre on the hook for each tiny, quietly honest reveal.
Its initially a slow burn, but through it all, Ramy consistently subverts and redirects expectations, and doesnt hide from tough contradictions, such as Muslim relatives who admire Trump or Ramys unsuccessful attempts to abstain for Ramadan.
Can you be a good Muslim, Ramy asks the kebab shop owner, if I dont follow all the rules and the fucking judgments that are always just being put on us? Ramy works through those assumptions put on him by exploring the flawed, contradictory, ordinary American at the center, the one who put[s] the same fucking judgments on everyone around me. Hes describing himself, but he could be describing any of us.
Ramy starts on Hulu on 19 April with a UK date yet to be announced