Hulu’s ‘Ramy’ Still Knows How to Laugh Even as Personal Angst and Culture Clash in Season 2
Hulu’s “Ramy” taps into a particular form of melancholy common to the millennial. In groundbreaking fashion it also brings the Muslim American life to TV like never before. The first season introduced Ramy Youssef, who is also the creator and a key writer of the show, as a walking embodiment of millennial angst mingled with the experience of being a first generation American. He carried the weight of both generation and tradition, often with hilarious results. Youssef ended up winning the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy Series for his role. Now in the second season, “Ramy” goes on a new kind of journey both funny and quite emotionally brutal in the end.
As the season opens Ramy is back home in New Jersey after the events of last season which saw him travel to Egypt and fall in love with his cousin Amani (Rosaline Elbay). Feeling a deep personal void he spends his days masturbating secretly to porn and avoiding his friends. Finding little solace in his Egyptian-Palestinian family’s more conservative mosque, Ramy visits a Sufi house of worship led by Sheikh Ali (Mahershala Ali). At the Sufi center Ramy seems to feel at home and finds a new spiritual drive. This leads him to befriend a homeless veteran (Jared Abrahamson), whom he first brings to Ali to see if there is any available work. With time the veteran converts to Islam, but when Islamophobic protesters gather outside the house of worship a violent incident puts both Ramy and Ali in a delicate crisis. As Ramy tries to rectify the situation, including trying to secure a major donation for Ali from a potential Emirate-style donor, he grows closer to the Sheikh’s daughter (MaameYaa Boafo).
This second season of “Ramy” is a surprisingly moodier turn from its predecessor. While the first season had its edgy moments, this one lacks its livelier tone. It could be because as with many inaugural laps, the first season said nearly everything biographical Youssef wanted to share or had cooking while developing the show. Now the writing team faces the task of expanding Ramy’s personal odyssey. An odd truth is that this season Ramy becomes a bit unlikeable, he is in fact brutally flawed, which makes him all the more intriguing to watch. Much comic relief truly comes from those surrounding him, like his friends Mo (Mohammed Amer), Ahmed (Dave Merheje) and Steve (Steve Way), who are always around to prod about whether he slept with his cousin or to offer the worst advice at the wrong time.
Much of the season focuses on Ramy’s relationship with Sheikh Ali, which begins as a need to confess to someone of spiritual merit that Ramy feels empty and fills that emptiness with porn. But what exactly is the source of this aimlessness in his heart? Does Ramy seek love? Or does he yearn for more freedom, albeit in a selfish way, to do his own thing? Being productive at the Sufi house of worship seems to help, until the incident at the protest which casts a shadow over everything for the rest of the season. But the hard-hitting part of the writing is that Ramy lacks little in terms of life’s essentials. His parents, Maysa (the great Hiam Abbass) and Farouk (Amr Waked), will let him eternally live at home with them, as is typical in many Middle Eastern (and for that matter Latino) families, and only annoy him with criticisms towards the Sheikh, whom Farouk in particular does not trust. So while Ramy means well in many of his ventures, he also keeps falling into a trap of being oblivious to finer details. At one point he reunites with a fresh tryst with Amani, but when she ponders their family demanding a wedding date, Ramy freezes and can’t answer what exactly he seeks with her. He seems to fall in love with the Sheikh’s daughter but by the season finale will make a mistake so hurtful, blundering into such an annoyingly selfish confession, that it will be a miracle if anyone wants to be his friend next season.
As with season one “Ramy” at times excels best when it ventures away from personal drama and into its more universal themes. This is still one of the best recent shows about the immigrant experience in America. An episode focuses on Hiam taking her citizenship test and has a ferocious fight over gender terms with daughter Dena (May Calamawy).This is one episode where the show explicitly takes a shot at Trump, with Maysa delivering a blistering speech slamming the anti-immigrant White House occupant. But a deeper theme here is the traditional values of one group and their offspring coming of age in changing times in another country. In a way this also cuts to the heart of Ramy’s own inner battles between being a good Muslim while still living like a typical, sexually free millennial. Viewers from any culture where certain standards are the norm can relight to the pressures and sudden, inner questions. Even Lebanese porn star Mia Khalifa makes a fun cameo. Ramy bumps into her at a wealthy donor’s lavish estate where she provides a particular drinkable service to calm the donor’s addiction to her videos. Khalifa uses the screen time to mention the hypocrisy of sexual repression when her videos are the most watched in the Middle East.
Topping a debut season as good as the one “Ramy” delivered last year is a hard task, but this new selection of episodes remains strong, with writing that does not shy away from exploring how complicated and flawed we all are. Maybe it is a good thing Ramy makes terrible mistakes and blunders that inspire pity, because in celebrating a particular American community, “Ramy” also celebrates how no matter your ethnicity, we all have our baggage to bear.
“Ramy” season two begins streaming May 29 on Hulu.