Ramy, a Hulu original created by Egyptian-American comedian Ramy Youssef, has taken the internet by storm since its release last April. Ramy is a comedy-drama about Ramy Hassan and his struggle with finding the balance between being both an American millennial and an Egyptian Muslim. The ten-series first season follows Ramy and his friends and family in New Jersey. When it was first announced in early 2018 that Hulu would be giving Ramy a series order, I assumed that the show would be a rated PG, family sitcom about being Muslim and the difficulties of navigating life in the United States post 9/11.
It is a sitcom about a family, but Ramy is an incredibly nuanced show that touches topics involving Muslim characters previously unseen in the American television landscape. The show isn’t necessarily about being Muslim, it’s just about being human. But after years of watching Muslims portrayed as the token terrorist (Homeland set us back like a hundred years), Ramy is an absolute delight. Three-dimensional characters with premises that are rich and full of good storytelling. Episode 4, “Strawberries”, is one of the most surreal things I have watched since Atlanta’s “Teddy Perkins” episode. The ingredients of a young Muslim boy being worried about both being Muslim after 9/11 and looking lame in front of his friends for never jerking off before and an intense monologue from Osama bin Laden eating strawberries and Reddi Whip in his kitchen makes for a compelling and thoroughly unique episode of television.
However, my favorite episode in the series is Episode 7, “Ne Me Quitte Pas”. It is a captivating story that encompasses the type of person whose needs and wants are often put on the side in order to take care of other people. In this case, the immigrant Muslim mom, who is Ramy’s mother in the show. This is a character that I have seen again and again, with the Muslim women in my own family.
The episode begins with us watching Maysa filled with ennui, looking for something to do and someone to talk to that doesn’t have to do with her always staying home to cook and take care of her family. She is disappointed by the lack of engagement on her Facebook profile, and after her husband advised her against joining the yoga class she wanted to be in to make friends, she becomes a Lyft driver in an effort to meet people. Maysa does everything she can think of to make her customers happy, but even making homemade baklava and koshary do not make people open to her. She gives up trying to please them and starts smoking in her car. When a French man visiting New Jersey gets in for a ride and asks her if he can smoke too, Maysa’s demeanor changes. She becomes softer and laughs and smiles as they converse in french and take a smoke break together. Later when she’s home and tries to get her husband to compliment her the way the french man called her a beautiful movie star, she is comedically shot down by him. When Maysa is asked to drive the Frenchman to the airport the following night, we see a new side of her as she dresses up, wears big earrings and puts on lipstick as if she is preparing for a date. She is all smiles until the Frenchman and his wife get in the car. She’s visibly upset and surprised and quickly drives away without saying goodbye, then has a mental breakdown in a fast food joint. Maysa has a bit of a schoolgirl-heartbreak fit there and cries and stuffs her face with a burger and fries (we’ve all been there).
What happens next is one of the reasons why this episode is so good. There is no happy ending or even a fully formed definitive conclusion for this woman’s problems. She ends up having unsatisfying, quick sex with her husband and then goes back to her room to smoke a cigarette. The episode ends with her smiling because she gets a notification on her phone for a Facebook friend request. We don’t know if the friend request is from a Frenchman, where she might be able to continue their friendship, or if it’s just a random person that gave her a bit of hope and feeling of not being alone.
Ramy is so good because it does not portray clear lines between right and wrong or good and bad, but instead leaves a gray area as proof that human beings are multidimensional, and so are the characters in this story. Every character in Ramy is full of surprises, and this show has to be a wake-up call for the entertainment industry to realize they need Muslim creators for their content, and there is a mountain of stories by Muslim writers and producers that are yet to be untapped.