When critics and culture writers talk about the need for more diverse stories on television and in film, it’s not motivated by some virtue signaling, social justice crusade like the worst people in any given comment section would like you to believe. Fans of the arts campaign for more inclusion because different voices mean new stories, or new perspectives on well-established premises. The human experience is vastly varied yet strangely universal, and by representing a wider array of backgrounds, opinions, and lifestyles we can encounter new worldviews, layers of empathy, and insights about ourselves. People advocate for more diverse stories so shows like Ramy can exist.
Hulu’s new 10-episode series Ramy, starring comedian Ramy Youssef (Mr. Robot) as a slightly fictionalized version of himself, centers on a young first generation Egyptian-American who finds himself caught between the pulls of a typical millennial lifestyle and his Muslim beliefs. Ramy feels guilty about sleeping with white women while trying to forge a connection with a woman within his Muslim community, ponders the ethics of talking to drunk girls while abstaining from alcohol for religious purposes, and freaks over the moral implications of eating edible marijuana.
Partly, Ramy seeks to normalize a group of people that an unfortunately large portion of Americans still don’t understand. Ramy’s struggle with what it means to be a good person in an increasingly morally grey world is something anybody can relate to, regardless of their religion or lack thereof. Ramy also shows how stereotypes can infect one’s view of themselves, as Ramy finds himself putting his peers into “a little Muslim box” despite disliking when the same thing is done to him.
Most impressive is the way that the series doesn’t shy away from sensitive topics. Perhaps inspired by the way that executive producer and co-creator Jerrod Carmichael similarly tackled weighty subjects on his unfairly short-lived NBC sitcom The Carmichael Show, Ramy explores what it was like to be a Muslim American in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the fetishization of otherness, and the dating options of people with disabilities. Ramy’s eighth episode in particular is sure to spark an interesting debate about consent. Especially interesting is how the show interrogates people who appear to be open-minded, until they reveal themselves not to be. Halfway through the first season, the only knock aginast Ramy was that the show was too focused on its central character and not enough on its supporting cast, mainly Ramy’s sister Dena (May Calamawy) and mother Maysa (Succession’s Hiam Abbass). Life as a Muslim American woman and the expectations that come with it appeared to be far more complicated, and but thankfully each character was given a spotlight episode later in the season.
While Ramy can be educational on specifics, like the realities of celebrating Ramadan and proper washing etiquette for prayer, it also presents challenges that many millennials experience, like navigating hookup culture, living with a scummy, racist relative, and dealing with losing a job in the fickle tech sector. Offering learning experiences for some, the show will mostly reflect a world that most young people are painfully familiar with. Thankfully, things never feel heavy-handed or preachy, and Youssef is a charming, highly likable lead that should see his stock raise after this and an upcoming HBO comedy special.
With a talented, singular voice at the helm that’s smart enough to highlight as many universal truths as foreign concepts, Ramy is yet another shining example of why Hollywood needs to keep propping up new, distinct voices. If there’s any justice in this world, the show will get the opportunity to expand further than just 10 episodes and go to even deeper, messier places. I have a feeling that Ramy and its titular character has a whole lot more searching to do.
Ramy debuts on Hulu on April 19. Eight episodes were screened for review.
Nick Harley is a tortured Cleveland sports fan, thinks Douglas Sirk would have made a killer Batman movie, Spider-Man should be a big-budget HBO series, and Wes Anderson and Paul Thomas Anderson should direct a script written by one another. For more thoughts like these, read Nick’s work here at Den of Geek or follow him on Twitter.