It’s a typical day in a typical American life. Ramy (Ramy Youssef) is another twentysomething working at one of those tech start-ups that will own the future or disappear tomorrow. Dating’s a struggle. He kinda has commitment issues, he literally believes in God, and he must be the only dude in New Jersey who doesn’t drink. He does have sex premaritally, which any prophet would frown upon. And Ramy’s married friends hear a biological clock ticking. “There are only two hot Muslim girls left in town!” says Ahmed (Dave Merheje). So Ramy asks his mom (Hiam Abbass) to set him up. “Do you want her covered? Uncovered?” she asks. Ramy pauses, indecisive by nature. Here’s a guy torn between Friday prayers and Friday-night parties: Millennials, amiright?
This generous new dramedy bursts with discovery, renewing familiar stories with autobiographical texture, filling the screen with modern-day Muslims whose concerns are both relatable and hyper-specific. Ramy and his sister Dena (May Calamawy) are third culture kids still living with Mom and Dad (Amr Waked). Dinnertime convos flip between English and subtitled Arabic, but you feel a gulf between the immigrant generation, who came seeking opportunity, and their offspring, who are, well, seeking.
Youssef imbues his performance with tangible confusion. Some days, Ramy wants to get in touch with his roots, fully devoting himself to Ramadan even if it means passing up sex with the cool Jewish girl he’s dating. Other times, his roots are outright embarrassing. His uncle (Laith Nakli) is a misogynist anti-Semite with an elaborate conspiracy theory about Princess Diana’s death. Ramy fancies himself woke by comparison. But is he? He sleeps with white girls but is shocked when a Muslim date expresses sexual feelings. “I’m just, like, trying to be good,” he explains, but some of his decisions turn out very bad.
Ramy resembles some of this decade’s best TV. Almost to a fault: A provocative flashback recalls similar episodes from Louie, Atlanta, and Master of None. And like all serious-faced sitcoms, Ramy can feel a tad sentimental, too willing to wrap up a complicated emotional journey with an all-the-feels ending. But the show gets better as it goes, dedicating stellar episodes to Ramy’s sister and mother, even as it follows his own spiritual journey to a mythic climax. The cast is extraordinary, especially Abbass, who turns her focal episode into a trilingual master class in quiet humanity.
Blink and you’ll miss guest star Anna Konkle, the co-creator of Pen15, another great Hulu series made with handmade funny-sad authenticity. I’m glad Hulu supports brilliantly eccentric work like this in our ever-Thronesier blockbuster television landscape. Ramy is essential viewing, a family TV show about a family that TV’s never fully shown, until now. A–