No. 4 on my list of TV shows you should be binging right now to get you through this period of isolation: Ramy (Hulu, Starz, Crave).
I have to admit I’m late to this dramedy, which bowed with 10 smart, funny episodes last year. I just picked up a print assignment to interview the creator and star of the show, actor/comedian Ramy Youssef. I spoke with the recent Golden Globe Award winner this Wednesday in advance of season two (coming in May) and was happy to tell him I love his series.
Spun from Youssef’s stand up comedy sets, the series follows the twentysomething adventures of a millennial Muslim from New Jersey. Our hat wearing hero is trying to navigate work, life, parents, dating and friendships from the perspective of a second generation American striving to stay true to his faith in an increasingly secular society. Hilarity, as well as insight, ensues.
Now, I grew up as a Catholic lad from Etobicoke who is now the parent of millennials. What shocked me is how much I related to Ramy’s story. All the trials he is going through — peer pressure, parental pressure, religious pressure — rang bells for me. The dating pressure — well, Ramy’s rabunctious Muslin Tinder relationships (“Minder,” as my twentysomething son explained to me) does seem a tad more adventurous now than in my day. (Back then there was no Tinder — just hinder.)
The other thing that rang true for me was how Ramy in his twenties was figuring this all out without the aide of drugs or alcohol. That was me in high school and college, and it was cool to see a character like that represented on TV.
Representing is what Ramy the series is all about. Another character, Stevie (Steven Way) is Ramy’s friend since grade school. Stevie is in his own Stephen Hawking-like wheelchair world. He’s funny and sarcastic and gives Ramy a hard time like all the other goofball friends. Nevertheless, Ramy cuts up his buddy Stevie’s burgers and feeds him and even takes him to the washroom. That’s a pretty good friend. (Stevie is Steven Way, a funny friend who Youssef talked into becoming a sit-down comedian.)
Another real life friend featured in the series is Windsor, Ont., stand up comedian Dave Merheje, who plays Ramy’s bald and bearded buddy Ahmed.
Episode four flashes back to when Ramy was 12 and intent on taking matters in hand and doing what restless boys do when they hit puberty. His discovery of self-pleasure, however, is derailed by the attacks on the World Trade Center on 9/11. Suddenly, Ramy’s friends start asking if he’s a terrorist because his family comes from the Middle East. Ramy protests that Egypt is really part of Africa, but too late — he’s already been bin Laden-ed.
The episode is scathing, provocative, funny and moving. Ramy, like life, is filled with contradictory moments. It is, as already noted, both universally relatable and Muslim specific. Watching Ramy is like exploring and re-living at the same time.
Louie CK’s Louie kicked down the door of telling uncomfortable truths in TV comedy (before the show’s legacy was tainted by CK’s own uncomfortable truths). Ramy takes a page from Louie’s playbook, but adds an exploration of faith and belief that broadens the journey. That a millennial Muslim is behind this series is intriguing and would have been astounding a decade ago. In these days of fear and uncertainty, his is absolutely the right show at the right time.