“Ramy” is a different kind of show
Carlos De Loera | Friday, April 26, 2019
Actor-comedian Ramy Youssef is a millennial. He is a Muslim. He is an American from the great state of New Jersey. He is also the son of immigrants. Youssef’s new Hulu show, “Ramy,” explores what it means to be each of these things, how they all work together and how they seemingly conflict.
“Ramy” centers around the life of a fictionalized version of Youssef. As a millennial, Youssef grew up in a world where computers were always accessible and played an integral part in his formative years — he works at a failing startup and lives at home with this parents at the tender age of 27. It doesn’t get much more millennial than that. Youssef is American because he was born in the United States and lives in the US (The only real requirement to be considered American!) and, in most ways, embraces the larger American culture. Perhaps the most American thing about Youssef is that he is the son of immigrants — an Egyptian father and Palestinian mother.
The most unique and isolating aspect of Youssef, as presented in the show, is he is a practicing Muslim. Though being Muslim is antithetical to the stereotypical agnostic/atheistic millennial, Youssef takes his faith seriously. He tries to pray five times a day, observes fasting very strictly during Ramadan and abstains from drinking and using drugs. The series goes to great lengths to show Youssef continuously turning down drinks at parties, how he intentionally stops all he is doing to go pray and the intentionality and necessity of his performance of wudu — an Islamic purification ritual performed prior to prayer. However, the show-writers in no way try to represent Youssef as the “perfect” Muslim (whatever that would even mean). On the contrary, a lot of the tension of the show comes from Youssef’s tendency to fall into what he views as vices — such as having premarital sex — and then him coming to terms with how he can earnestly reconcile parts of his life with his faith.
While much of the show is centered on the internal conflict of Ramy’s faith, the show also makes clear efforts to point out the external conflict that arises from being a Muslim in America. In the flashback episode, “Strawberries,” the viewer is taken back to 2001, where middle-school age Youssef finds himself the outsider of his friend group. While his friends at first poke fun at his prudishness, he is quickly made the outsider of his group for a different reason. Part way through the episode, the 9/11 attacks occur just a few miles away from Youssef’s New Jersey suburban community. While watching the news break in his classroom, Youssef receives a call on his “phone” (which is really just a walkie-talkie because his parents don’t trust him with a phone yet) from his parents in Arabic, which can be heard by his whole class.
Youssef feels particularly embarrassed and nervous about this because the newscast had just shown video footage of Osama bin Laden delivering messages to fellow terrorists through walkie-talkies in Arabic. The rest of the episode deals with how his family, like most Muslim families at the time, had to respond the suspicion that was thrust upon them. Youssef’s dad is compelled to hang an American flag on the front porch so as to prove his family’s American-ness. Youssef is dared by his “friends” to do a disgusting act to prove to them that he is not a terrorist. At the end of this episode the young Youssef has a dream where he has a terrifying and humorous encounter with bin Laden in his New Jersey kitchen. In the encounter, bin Laden speaks to the alienation and harassment of Muslims in the United States, but regardless of the salient points, Youssef rejects bin Laden. The episode goes to show how quickly he had to grow up post 9/11 and how the country changed for all Muslims.
“Ramy” is good because of how it is distinct from other TV shows in its representation of the everyday Muslim-American, but it is also good because of its sharp and humorous writing that allows viewers to get a true sense of who Ramy is and who he is trying to be — even if those two views don’t always line up.
Show: “Ramy” Season 1
Starring: Ramy Youssef, Hiam Abbass, Amr Waked
Favorite episodes: “A Black Spot on the Heart,” “Strawberries,” “Refugees”
If you like: “Master of None,” “Insecure,” “Shrill”
Where to watch: Hulu
Shamrocks: 4.5 out of 5