Everyone makes mistakes in this life, and we have the choice to learn, grow, and put them behind us. But in Ramy Season 2 on Hulu, old regrets give way to new ones, and our protagonist’s missteps amplify in magnitude as he tries to live a righteous life. Much of it is uncomfortable, confusing, and not exactly compulsively rewatchable. Yet Ramy remains an exceptional show you can’t miss.
Season 2 catches up with Ramy (Ramy Youssef) visibly depressed after his trip to Egypt, spending most of his time alone watching porn and masturbating. An early intervention from his friends brings up the question we were too afraid to ask, but have probably pondered since finishing Season 1: Did Ramy hook up with his cousin?
He’s quick to deny it, but confesses all manner of sins to Sheikh Ali Malik (Mahershala Ali), the leader of a local Islamic community center. Under the Sheikh’s guidance, Ramy hopes to course-correct to a life free of haram, to pray and help others and resist temptations, especially those related to sex. That’s quickly put to the test as he gets to know the Sheikh’s daughter Zainab (MaameYaa Boafo), who fits every part of what Ramy believes makes one a good Muslim.
Youssef appears to have spent the gap between Seasons 1 and 2 at the Dave Holstein Institute for Tone Shifts in Comedy, where he aced his classes. An episode that starts fresh off an incident of religious violence (we won’t get into detail, but it unfolds nothing like you could imagine) wraps its cold open with a wonderfully placed joke about Toy Story 4. When the Sheikh admonishes Ramy, saying that Prophet Muhammad didn’t watch porn, Ramy quietly answers “Well, the Prophet didn’t have porn, so…?” Again and again, Youssef and his writers push us to the absolute edges of discomfort and beyond with family, religion, race, and more — and every time we push through, there’s a laugh on the other side.
Ramy has no qualms about its identity and makes no apologies if you can’t handle it.
In Season 2, Ramy reveals itself to be a show with no such thing as a “normal episode.” Spotlights and special outings comprise as much of the season as episodes that are neither. There’s noticeably less Steve (Steve Way), who still wastes no time eviscerating his friend whenever on screen, and precious few of the raucous scenes between Ramy, Ahmed (Dave Merheje), and Mo (Mohammed Amer) that made Ramy Season 1 seem like a buddy comedy at home base.
Time stands still yet moves inexorably forward, either with Ramy’s mother Maysa (Hiam Abbass), sister Dena (May Calamawy), father Farouk (Amr Waked), or even notorious Uncle Naseem (Laith Nakli). Abbass in particular continues to be a scene-stealer, whether in the powerful moment Maysa becomes a U.S. citizen or a pitch-perfect movie title mispronunciation. The family’s episodes, still and poignant compared to the guilty dynamism of Ramy’s journey, underscore what he continues to struggle with: The world does not exist to make Ramy Youssef a better person. His nuclear family are not side characters in his life but lead characters in their own, and until he starts treating people as such, he will never be free of his own sins.
Ali’s casting caused a buzz in 2019, and his performance earns every bit of it. He’s a strong, soothing, magnetic presence, not only on screen but in Ramy’s life from the moment they meet. It is impossible not to look into this man’s eyes, to hear him lead prayer with the voice of an angel, or receive his forgiveness and trust without being completely enamored of all he represents. More than once, Ramy’s family comment on his fascination with the Sheikh, which is at once admiration and aspiration.
The Sheikh and Zainab force the Hassan family to face their own ingrained biases of what a Muslim looks like, and for viewers to constantly be aware and internalize that there is no one black, Muslim, or Arab experience in America. This is not a political show, but it is a show that confronts Islamophobia, the veteran experience, faith and the secular, sexual taboos, and even gender fluidity across its 10 episodes, and none of it is a chore. In a time when Americans repeatedly compartmentalize their empathy, it is a reminder that for many, these aren’t topics to spotlight at will, but face every day.
By season’s end, Ramy has weathered and often combusted more critical adult experiences than ever before. He takes steps toward and away from haram, and he’s still not quite sure who he is and how to bridge the gap between that and who he wants to be. Luckily, the show at large has no qualms about its identity and makes no apologies if you can’t handle it. Find your comfort TV somewhere else.
Ramy Season 2 is now streaming on Hulu.