Roush Review: No More ‘Ramy Who?’ After a Strong Second Season
Upon winning a Golden Globe for best comedy actor for his under-the-radar Hulu series Ramy, a happily gobsmacked Ramy Youssef blurted in his January acceptance speech, “Look, I know you guys haven’t seen my show.” Hopefully, that will change for Ramy‘s boldly seriocomic second season.
A rare dramedy that takes religion seriously without being self-righteous, Ramy revisits its title character, an aimless and scruffy slacker from North Jersey, at a spiritual low following a trip to the family’s native Egypt for his grandfather’s funeral. (While there, he transgressed in a way that comes back to haunt him later.) Never known for his high self-esteem, the fictional Ramy Hassan worries that with his various addictions (notably porn, self-gratification, and junk food), he’s a disappointment to his family — and to himself.
Ramy’s rocky and sometimes gamy path toward Muslim enlightenment takes a steep curve when he meets and falls under the spell of the serene Sheikh Ali (double Oscar winner Mahershala Ali, projecting wry authority), an African-American cleric who has opened a Sufi center in an abandoned church. Ramy’s puppy-dog devotion to his new mentor, who demands only honesty and truth — neither being Ramy’s strong suit — only grows when the Sheikh greets the inevitable street protestors with kindness.
The high road is a new one for Ramy, and much of the humor this season involves his family and friends reacting in puzzlement at his newfound holier-than-thou attitude, even as he often tries too hard to please. Attempting to convert a susceptible white ex-soldier with PTSD issues, who reveals that prayer sounds are a trigger, may not be just what the Imam ordered.
As Ramy rushes into a relationship with the Sheikh’s skeptical daughter, Zainab (MaameYa Boafo), prompting a meeting between families that exposes some uncomfortable cultural prejudices, you might find yourself waiting for all holy hell to break loose. Eventually, it does.
One of the many strengths of Ramy is how its star and creator widens the focus beyond its eponymous character’s own journey to reveal the challenges of assimilation for the rest of his family, each of whom takes center stage in impactful episodes of their own. Hiam Abbass (the stepmother in Succession) is especially moving as Ramy’s possessive mother, Maysa, who frets that her dream of American citizenship could be derailed by a bad Lyft review. Each of these vignettes about identity pack a punch, as Ramy’s independent-minded sister, Dena (May Calamawy), pursues a law degree while dealing with irrational fears of a superstitious curse; proud father Farouk (Amr Waked) hides what he considers a shameful secret from the rest of the family; and Uncle Naseem (Laith Nakli), the most obnoxiously successful relative who keeps pushing Ramy to become his partner, reveals a poignant loneliness beneath his bravado.
This is a rich portrait of an underexplored culture, grounded by the most imperfect of pilgrims. Unlike the sheepish character he plays, Ramy Youssef no longer has anything to prove. And the next time he’s on the red carpet (whenever red carpets come back), he’ll be hearing “Who’s that?” a lot less often.
Ramy, Season 2 Premiere, Friday, May 29, Hulu