Ramy (Ramy Youssef) is trying to change. To be better, both as a person and as a Muslim in America. That’s always been clear since the first time we met him last season. But change is not that simple. It never is. Everyone can say that they wanna be better, but if by the end of the day they don’t mean it, let alone do something to achieve it, then it’s all just the same. Ramy, however, is not that kind of person. He means what he says, and even tries his best to always be better at every occasion. He goes to the mosque to do daily prayers. He abides by Islam’s rules to not do drugs or consume alcohol. He even helps others whenever he can. But on the other hand, Ramy also enjoys pre-marital sex, and watches a lot of porn —though it’s not his worst quality.
Oftentimes, Ramy likes to judge other people’s choices without thinking of his own misdemeanor, especially when it comes to his two Muslim buddies Mo (Mohammed Amer) and Ahmed (Dave Merheje), who aren’t practicing Islam as intensely as Ramy is. If he sounds like a hypocrite, that’s exactly the point. Ramy’s flawed idealism frequently clashes with his hypocrisy as much as the Muslim culture of his family often clashes with the culture of America throughout both seasons. And this not just creates tension underneath the humor, but also makes the show all the more authentic. The creators, Ari Katcher, Ryan Welch, and Youssef himself, clearly understand that change is a difficult task, especially for someone like Ramy. And based on the ten episodes of the sophomore season, change is still far from easy.
Finding Enlightenment In God
The last time we saw Ramy, he was in Egypt trying to find answers to all his problems. He assumes that if he can get close to his roots, his family, and his God, his journey of becoming a better Muslim will be much easier. But upon arriving there, he realizes that nothing is going to help him except himself. Cairo is not what he expected, and his extended family is not as religious as he assumed them to be. Even when he thought that his grandfather is going to help him, things go south real quick, leaving him with nothing but hopelessness. To put a cherry on top, he’s also hooking up with his cousin Amani (Rosaline Elbay).
Things are not looking any better when he goes back to New Jersey. In an attempt to cope with his disappointment, Ramy buries himself in Haribo gummy bears and porn. But hope arrives not long after when one of his mosque friends (Michael Chernus) tells him that there might be a Sheikh (Mahershala Ali) who can help him. So without thinking further, Ramy goes to meet the Sheikh at his Sufi Center, hoping that he can guide him on his quest of becoming a good Muslim. And the Sheikh accepts Ramy with open arms.
During their first meeting, the Sheikh asks Ramy to always be honest with him. And Ramy, for the first time, tells the honest truth about all of his demeanors to him. He even gets very vulnerable in front of him when he tells the Sheikh about his sex and porn addiction. “I feel like I had this hole inside of me that’s always been there, like emptiness,” Ramy confesses. “And um, I always try to fill it with something, like sex and porn.” The Sheikh doesn’t judge him, unlike the other Imams he’s been meeting previously. And this, of course, makes Ramy very comfortable.
But Ramy being Ramy, he begins to sabotage the rapport he’s built with the Sheikh when he starts telling lies just to impress him. And it all begins when he brings a stranger he just met at Mo’s restaurant to the Sufi Center under the impression of helping him. The stranger is Dennis (Jared Abrahamson), and he’s a traumatized war veteran with no home or job. Ramy lies to Sheikh Ali, telling him that he’s known Dennis for years so that he will give Dennis the chance to work at the mosque, and eventually convert to Islam. The aftermath of this lie is depicted in the brilliant second episode “Can you hear me now?”. Youseff, who writes the episode, changes the tone from funny to moving to sad and to terrifying masterfully. It’s a powerful episode, and one that will be hard to forget.
Throughout, the lies that Ramy keeps telling both to himself and to the Sheikh become the main focus of the season. And the writers observe the aftermath very carefully without making any redemption arcs or teachable moments in the story. But painful and cringey as it is, this non-compromised approach that the show uses to tell Ramy’s journey is what exactly makes it remarkable. The show doesn’t need to give us a portrait of the “should be” scenario, and instead it just focuses on telling the real portrait of a guy who’s messed up beyond belief. And what begins as a character study about a guy trying to be better, now also evolves into a portrait of how having flawed idealism and telling lies can be very dangerous.
Like the first season, Youseff gives a stellar performance as the titular Ramy. He layers his performance with empathy and vulnerability that, even though it’s easy to dislike him for all his flaws, we can’t help but root for him every step of the way. Mahershala Ali unsurprisingly also gives a rich performance as the stoic and wise Sheikh. His display of disappointment and pain toward Ramy after betraying the Sheikh’s daughter, Zainab (MaameYaa Boafo), at the end of the final episode is powerful.
People Like Us
While Ramy’s journey remains the focus for the majority of the season, the show is never less engaging when it explores the other characters too. Hiam Abbass once again is allowed to show how underrated she is in the episode that focuses on her character Maysa as she’s going through the complicated process of getting US citizenship. Ramy’s unapologetic sister Dena (May Calamawy) also gets one episode dedicated to her as she’s facing paranoia of not being religious enough. But it’s the two episodes focusing on Ramy’s father Farouk (Amr Waked) and uncle Naseem (Laith Nakli) that prove to be the strongest hour of the season.
In the antepenultimate episode “Frank”, the show explores the emotional and psychological toll that Farouk is having after he realizes that his American dream is not achieved. The whole 30 minutes remind me a lot of ‘The Parent” episode in Master of None, where both shows invite us to see how difficult it is to be immigrants in America. In the ninth episode, the anti-Semite, sexist, and racist Uncle Naseem is struggling to make sense of both his identity and sexuality, with an ending that mirrors the cathartic scene in David Lowery’s A Ghost Story where Rooney Maara eats a whole pie.
It’s easy to reduce these four episodes only as a way for Ramy to redeem itself for the lack of character development in the first season. But even though parts of it are true, it also works to show us that while Ramy is out there being self-centered and idealist, the family members he’s left behind every day are also going through their own life tribulations. And most importantly, these four character-centric episodes are here to remind us that even though these characters are a specific Muslim, Egyptian-American family, they are just like all of us, people who are dealing with the complexity of life.
A Perfect Season
Ramy season two continues to push boundaries in every possible way, representing the rare voice of Muslim Americans, and even through a character named Steve (Steve Way, Youssef’s real-life close friend who has muscular dystrophy), the disabled community is represented in ways that are rarely found on TV. The comedy remains hilarious, and the performances from the ensemble remain universally phenomenal. On top of that, season two is also moving, heartbreaking, and relevant. Just the right combination of what a perfect season looks like.
What do you think of the season? Do you like how it concludes? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
All ten episodes of Ramy Season 2 will be available to stream on Hulu May 29, 2020.
Does content like this matter to you?
Become a Member and support film journalism. Unlock access to all of Film Inquiry`s great articles. Join a community of like-minded readers who are passionate about cinema – get access to our private members Network, give back to independent filmmakers, and more.