Ramy, Hulu's wonderful new comedy series, is a comedian's-point-of-view show in the artistic vein of Louie or Master of None or Atlanta. It comes from the mind and experiences of Ramy Youssef, a 28-year-old Egyptian-American actor and stand-up from northern New Jersey, who co-created the show with Ari Katcher and Ryan Welch, and executive-produces, writes, stars, and directs one episode. He's not yet a household name — his most prominent credit before this was a recurring role on Season 3 of Mr. Robot — but his show has confidence and clarity of vision that puts it alongside those auteurish achievements from name-brand creators. Outside of one standalone episode that flashes back to Ramy's childhood — a format successfully utilized in similar fashion in the aforementioned shows — Ramy isn't really like those shows, though. Youssef's perspective is too distinct. We've seen many "am I a good person?" shows, but never one quite like this.
Ramy is about a fictionalized version of Youssef who's trying to straddle the line of being a devout Muslim who observes Ramadan and prays five times a day and doesn't drink or do drugs, but who also lives a secular American Millennial life of being driven by George Costanza-level horniness. Like George, sex makes his life very complicated. Unlike George, he's a thoughtful guy with a spiritual code that makes him feel guilty when he doesn't do the right thing, and eventually he has to try to right his wrongs, which only leads to further complications. He lives at home with his immigrant parents Farouk (Amr Waked) and Maysa (Hiam Abbas) and his sister Dena (May Calamawy), all of whom have their own strengths and flaws. It's a portrait of an American Muslim family never before seen in a sitcom, because these kinds of characters are never allowed to be this complicated.
"They're messy, they're ignorant, they're loving, they're a little racist, they're . . . you know — they're everything everyone in America is," Youssef said in a recent interview with Vanity Fair. "Meeting at our fault lines is much more interesting to me than meeting at shared values. I'm not trying to sell you something. If anything, I'm trying to show you where we are. There is nothing to hide." The "fault lines" Youssef mentions are what make this show so compelling and so laugh-out-loud funny. It's woke in its representation of people rarely seen on TV and how it's empathetic to all its characters, and hilariously unwoke in the way it chooses to let its characters say ignorant things and do inappropriate stuff without inviting the audience to condemn them. It may offend some, not because it's provocative, but because it's real in a way that will make some people uncomfortable.
Relatability is not Ramy's main goal — its main goal is to be funny — but you will probably find yourself relating anyway, if you have parents you love but don't agree with, or if you struggle to live by the rules of your religion, or if you did something less-than-solemn in the wake of September 11th, 2001, like young Ramy's (Elisha Henig) visit to a sex chatroom in the childhood flashback episode. Other standalone episodes follow Dena and Maysa, and the latter in particular is a beautiful showcase for Hiam Abbas and shows the interior life of a middle-aged woman in a way that almost never gets shown on TV. Ramy's empathy for its characters is tremendous.
Ramy does a number of things remarkably well. It provides plenty of laughs, and it also knows when to pull back and go for emotion (there's a remarkable scene with Ramy's grandfather in the finale). It holds conflicting ideas at the same time (I'm not going to tell you who makes a special guest appearance in the flashback episode, but it's pretty incredible). The acting is great across the board, and every role is well-cast (the show's biggest laughs tend to come from Ramy's knucklehead friends, played by Mohammed Amer and David Meherje). It's a major statement from a talent who's only going to grow from here.
All ten episodes of Ramy Season 1 premiere Friday, April 19 on Hulu.