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The lamp attached to Ramy’s headboard wobbles. His laptop shakes. His whole body in a tremor. His face; vacant. A woman moans and moans and moans and moans and Ramy takes a bite out of a gummy worm. Multi-tasking.
That’s essentially our introduction to Ramy’s outstanding A24 and Jerrod Carmichael-produced (they simply don’t miss) second season (out now on Hulu). Our titular character is faced with a porn addiction, grappling with the idea that this might make him not just a bad Muslim, but a deeply troubled person. Most of us watch porn and find pleasure in it. But, if you find the urge to masturbate in a public restroom moments after your weird uncle pulls down his pants, takes a revolver out of a holster, and gifts it to you—you’ve got a certified problem. How exactly are you horny after all that?
Eventually, Ramy (Ramy Youssef) finds his way to Sheikh Ali Malik, a young leader of a new Sufi center in New Jersey. Sheikh Ali is a quiet charismatic child of God with a golden hue, played perfectly by Mahershala Ali. His teachings, focused on spiritual and ethical growth are perfect for Ramy, who is a manifestation of internal struggle, a man who spends every waking moment wrestling with what he thinks he should be and the man he actually is. There’s no better antithesis for Ramy. Sheikh Ali is a seemingly pure man with unshakable empathy who has overcome a vague, murky past. Ramy’s a truly unlikable protagonist—a selfish, habitual liar that'll let you down, every single chance he gets.
During their first meeting, Ramy confides in Sheikh Ali about his addiction and general sexual deviancy—in the first season, he had an affair with a married woman at his mosque, as well as his cousin while on a soul-searching trip to Egypt. Before Muslims pray, they must be clean before they speak to God, so the Sheikh asks, “Since you ejaculated have you showered? No drips in your drawers?” Ramy says yes, this is a lie. From then, the question throughout the course of the season becomes, will Ramy break this man?
Season two of Ramy is about the journey to enlightenment, be it personal, spiritual or both. And not just Ramy’s, but his entire family’s. Four out of the 10 episodes are not about him—they’re about his mother, father, sister, and that aforementioned strange uncle. His mother, Maysa (Hiam Abbass), is about to become an American citizen and gets suspended from Lyft—because she’s rude, offensive, and prejudiced—which she’s worried will render her ineligible for citizenship. His father, Farouk (Amr Waked), loses his job and has a crisis about what it means to be a man with regrets and broken dreams. His sister Dena is faced with questions of pride and humility and how she approaches her faith after she gets a coveted scholarship and her hair starts falling out. Ramy’s uncle Naseem (Laith Nakli), a brutish, ostentatious, and unrepentantly ignorant man, confronts his homosexuality, very poorly, with violence. Naseem’s episode traverses the thin line between trite stereotype of the homophobic man who’s actually gay himself, but Ramy’s too tender to play into stereotypes. The characters are three-dimensional and fully-realized and sometimes the gray area is exactly the point. (The final frames of “Uncle Nassem” are heartbreaking.)
Ramy’s journey towards enlightenment leaves people destroyed in his wake. In one notable arc this season, he brings Dennis (Jared Abrahamson), an intense, tormented, homeless white vet into the Sufi center in the spirit of selfish do-goodery. In a scene that’s one of the more perfect distillations of the depths of Ramy’s dark humor and abstract philosophy, Dennis ends up beating a bigot protesting against Muslims into a coma, scream-weeping “Allahu akbar” and “Islam is peace” while doing so.
The season reaches its coda with a naked Ramy, save for white bed sheets draped across his body, facing off with Sheikh Ali in a hotel room. Less than 24 hours ago, Ramy married his daughter, Zainab (MaameYaa Boafo), and took her virginity—which she was saving for the person she intended to spend the rest of her life with. Ramy’s idea of pillow talk with Zainab involves floating the idea of having multiple wives, “like the Prophet," and revealing that the night before their marriage he slept with an ex, his cousin, Amani (Rosaline Elbay), presumably in the car in the parking lot of a convenience store.
Ramy pleads for forgiveness, help, and prayer. “Fuck you,” Sheikh Ali says. “It's all about you and your precious self-improvement. The rest of the world exists so that you can reflect on it and perfect yourself? Is that it?” And finally, Ramy breaks a man who seemed so close to God he could tell you what fragrance Allah wears. Ramy is many things but its thesis is a story of a young man who at his heart wants to live a secular life as a scumbag but feels he has no choice but to exist as a perfect Muslim. And so he eternally wrestles with his morality, failing at both.
Ramy at its core is a progressive anti-clapter comedy. Youseff eschews the idea of coercing the audience with empty cultural fodder in favor of extreme candor. The show’s Golden Globe award-winning first season was groundbreaking for its honest ruminations on life as millennial Muslim. At times, there were moments in the show that felt like little more than stand-up comedy with narrative storytelling surrounding it, a close-up on Ramy Youssef as he makes Seinfeldian observations about his faith and life—a symptom of too many television shows starring comedians, to be sure. However, Ramy levels up in the second season and crafts one of the most intrepid collections of stories that prestige comedy has to offer. Ramy is a bold, nuanced piece of art that’s sure to provoke conversations on anti-blackness in the Muslim community, sexism, piety, transphobia, homophobia, military brainwashing, and not least of all, how fucking terrible of a person Ramy is. If enough people watch this show, Youseff will become so famous that folks who can’t separate the actor from the character will absolutely scream at him on the street. And if Youseff and his team keep this genius up—bold, smart storytelling that wades in the gray area—there'll have a cabinet of Golden Globes and Emmys awaiting them. Inshallah. If Allah wills it, of course.