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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Ramy digs deeper into faith and culture in a moving second season

Illustration for article titled iRamy /idigs deeper into faith and culture in a moving second season
Photo: Craig Blankenhorn (Hulu)
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The exceptional first season of Hulu’s Ramy established its protagonist, Egyptian American Ramy Hassan, as a quiet, perpetually confused man who often finds it challenging to balance both sides of his hyphenated identity. He knows he wants to be a good Muslim and is really struggling to get to that point. Even so, he’s committed to understanding his faith and roots. The show stands out amidst a sea of new comedies in the last few years—especially those hailing from young comedians with a singular voice—because of creator Ramy Youssef’s distinct lens and the way his on-screen character relies on religion for guidance. In a great second season, the show doubles down on this with extreme enthusiasm. Despite a couple of misses in the middle, season two is a remarkable experience that retains Ramy’s charming storytelling and comedic nuances.

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We pick up in the aftermath of Ramy’s trip to bond with his grandfather in Cairo, which also resulted in a secret, taboo relationship with his cousin Amani (Rosaline Elbay). Upon his return to the suburban New Jersey home that he shares with his parents and his sister, Ramy is disengaged from everyone around him. He spends his days moping and masturbating excessively. His ever-looming quest to connect with his faith is even stronger now, which leads him to the Sufi Center. Ramy is eager to meet with the sheikh there, motivated by his friend’s description of the Bay’ah: “It’s a spiritual contract bro, he gives it to students he thinks can follow him on the path. You get to be bound to him and he gets to be bound to you. It’s beautiful, man. He can help you cleanse all your demons. He’s got a direct connection to God.”

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Ramy desperately seeks this mentorship as a way to let go of his past mistakes and find purpose in his life. Maybe that’s why he’s so easily drawn to the soft-spoken Sheikh Ali, played gracefully by Mahershala Ali. (Cue the inevitable jokes about how he’s this year’s Hot Priest!) Much of Ramy’s narrative this season is driven by this newfound attachment to the Sufi Center, the sheikh, the sheikh’s daughter Zainab (MaameYa Boafo), and the calmness they bring into his life. Ironically, he only adds chaos into theirs, despite his best intentions. It starts with him bringing a troubled war vet to the center and ends with unsurprising yet wrenching twists in his blooming relationship with Zainab. He becomes overly devoted to his new path and philosophies—he frequently goes overboard with his decisions sometimes, as his friends also point out to him—and just expects everyone in his life to follow along without blinking an eye. Ramy acknowledges his selfishness but still doesn’t give much regard to the repercussions of his actions, no matter who faces them. It’s his genuine need and effort to overcome the flaws that make him relatable and someone worth rooting for.

Since the beginning, Ramy has delicately and accurately portrayed Muslim culture, whether it’s by breaking down stereotypes or affirming them with a fresh, more informative outlook. The series notably puts a mirror in front of its own characters and challenges some of its own cultural norms. As a follower of Sufism now, Ramy is quick to judge some of his friends—who stood by him when he was aimless—for not being as devout, but is rightly called out on this behavior. Similarly, the sixth episode, “They,” focuses on Ramy’s mother and offers a simple yet stunning insight into why older generations, especially immigrants, often pick and choose which ideologies they want to be progressive about.

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Maysa (Hiam Abbass) is in the midst of her citizenship process when a bad review by a Lyft passenger causes her driver account to be suspended. She is so paranoid about something this small impacting her progress that she goes out of her way to stalk and confront the person she thinks is responsible. Maysa wants to become a citizen to vote and help course-correct after the 2016 election, but we learn she can be quite vocal with microaggressions towards others without realizing her own inbuilt prejudices. Abbass is spectacular in this episode, delivering a speech near the end with great ferocity.

Hiam Abbass in Ramy
Hiam Abbass in Ramy
Photo: Craig Blankenhorn/Hulu
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While “They” is a winner, Ramy still falls short of remedying the biggest critique of season one: the peripheral character development for its women. Maysa is now a little more educated about the LGBTQ+ community but doesn’t get to expand on her own arc at all. The Dena-centric episode in season two, “3riana Grande,” pales in comparison to last year’s stunning “Refugees,” which offered an intimate look at how May Calamawy’s character faces misogyny. Both the Hassan women remain somewhat of an afterthought, which doesn’t do justice to the talents of Abbass or Calamawy. As the newest woman in Ramy’s life, Zainab doesn’t get any defining traits other than her religious beliefs. There’s nothing wrong with depicting an undaunted Muslim woman who doesn’t shy away from traditions, but we learn nothing about her life, hobbies, or goals outside of her passion for the Sufi Center.

On the contrary, the episodes that provide a window into the lives of Ramy’s father Farouk (Amr Waked) and his unabashedly annoying Uncle Naseem (Laith Nakli) are stirring and insightful. The former’s episode is a crushing look at how an unemployed Farouk copes with his American dream deferred and his lack of connection with his son. Uncle Naseem’s outing gives his rigid, outright sexist attitude some much-needed context that works hard to elicit sympathy.

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The first season of Ramy posited a rare question (on TV) about our millennial lead: How can he connect to God when life offers so many other tempting distractions? Even going to Egypt, where he thought any hindrances would be eliminated, was totally futile. Season two tries to find an answer by pushing Ramy onto a more spiritual lifestyle that gives him not only a guide in the form of his sheikh—he takes every word of Sheikh Ali’s to heart, even if it means taking care of a dog no one in his family wants—but also a girlfriend who wants to be on the same journey. Ramy’s family and friends eventually come around to his way of life. In an ideal world, all of Ramy’s doubts should now evaporate, right? But by the finale, we realize, along with Ramy, that it’s just not that easy. The final episode amps up the drama as the dominos slowly laid out throughout the season start to topple. Ramy has to realize that ultimately he is the biggest obstacle to his own growth. Perhaps a third season—which is likely after Youssef’s Golden Globe win earlier this year, yes?—will get him there.

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