By Sarah Osman
Much of the fun of Ramy comes from its deadpan embrace of heightened absurdity.
Season 1 of Ramy (on Hulu) introduced viewers to Ramy Youssef, an Egyptian-American Muslim 20-something on a path of self discovery in New Jersey. The dramedy, which was the first Arabic sitcom of its kind, also introduced us to Ramy’s family and friends. Provocatively, at times entire episodes were spent with each character. Season 2 of Ramy focuses a bit more on the show’s protagonist and, by doing so, ends up improving on the first season.
Why? Because, while many shows focus on 20- and 30-somethings finding themselves, none are quite like Ramy. Part of this difference has to do with the subject matter — Arabs and Muslims are grossly underrepresented on TV. But there is also the character of Ramy himself. As one of his friends reminds him, “You’re like the most emotional, extreme Muslim I’ve ever met.” Within his own community, Ramy stands out — there is no attempt to make him a representative of his background. The man tries to reconnect with his faith, but inevitably ends up involved in multiple misadventures.
Season 2 concentrates on Ramy as he deals with “the hole that’s been inside him.” He begins studying under a Sufi leader named Sheikh Ali (Mahershala Ali), who somehow manages to make utter calm charismatic. Under his tutelage, Ramy begins to find his spiritual way — but not before he wreaks some unintentional havoc. It is at this point that the series leaves the safety of the sitcom and takes a rather traumatic turn. Ramy deals with not only Islamophobia, but military PTSD.
While more of the series now revolves around Ramy, his family and friends do make appearances. Stories from the first season are developed, especially the problematic machismo of Uncle Naseem (Laith Nakli). Ramy’s mother is particularly hilarious. She asks her son why he wants a dog; the last time he asked for one was after he watched the movie Air Bud. Still, there is a serious side to these humorous familial interludes; they often make perceptive statements about how people raised in the same household and undergoing the same experiences can have wildly different takeaways. Ramy’s mother (Hiam Abbass) berates his sister, Dena (May Calamawy), for not praying enough. Dena snaps back that her mother barely prays.
Much of the fun of Ramy comes from its embrace of heightened absurdity. Ramy and the Sheikh’s daughter visit a wealthy benefactor to ask for money for the mosque. He calmly discusses his pet tiger then goes into how, over the years, he has collected “white people.” These eyebrow-raising moments are played with skillful deadpan, which only makes the ridiculous funnier. Ramy is a show that has learned the value of comic restraint, another claim to distinction.
Perhaps, in Season 3, Ramy will finally find himself. But right now it is far more amusing to watch as he attempts — with gently farcical results — to fill the hole that’s inside him.
Sarah Mina Osman is a writer living in Los Angeles. She has written for Young Hollywood and High Voltage Magazine. She will be featured in the upcoming anthology Fury: Women’s Lived Experiences under the Trump Era.