Mohammed “Mo” Amer was on a mission to tell a real American story with Mo—and he succeeded.
Season 1 of the comedian’s new Netflix series hit the streaming service on Aug. 24, and that’s good news because this is the kind of show you’ll want to watch front to back in one sitting. The comedy-drama is loosely based on Amer’s real-life story of how his family fled his birth country of Kuwait during the Gulf War in the ’90s and emigrated to the United States to settle in Houston, Texas. The show follows their 22-year struggle as Palestinian refugees who are constantly living one step away from asylum on the path to U.S. citizenship. Amer co-created and stars on the show as Mo Najjar.
The first episode titled “Hamoodi” kicks off with Mo driving around Houston while listening to Paul Wall’s “Sittin’ Sidewayz.” Within the first five minutes, there’s also a Selena Quintanilla mention, instantly setting the tone for what’s in store. At the start of the episode, viewers get to watch along as Mo loses his job at a mobile store because he doesn’t have a work permit. “It’s not the first time ICE runs me out of a job,” he says as he walks out with his last paycheck in hand.
The show aims to uncover so many of the hardships immigrants face that most people aren’t familiar with, like Mo having to deny medical care after being shot, resorting to criminal activity to make ends meet, and dealing with a disorganized system that makes seeking asylum extremely challenging. The show marries its most raw, honest, and heartbreaking moments with a touch of comedy and humor that make their troubles easier for viewers to absorb and understand without cheapening their pain.
Complex spoke with Amer prior to the show’s release and he opened up about wanting to tell this story after never seeing a Palestinian family on American television before. “I felt like it was really important to relate to an Arab family, a Palestinian family, and a Muslim family, that has immigrated to America in such a universal way. Because in the end, this is a story about belonging, by being seen as an equal human being, as the person next to you,” Amer explained. “I think we did a really good job of that. It was all very conscious and meticulous and went through everything with a fine-tooth comb, to make sure that it was a genuine experience.”
Part of making the story so genuine is adding so much of his culture, his religion, and his family’s interactions, as well as showing what it was like to grow up in a city as diverse and rich in culture as Houston. Mo features appearances and music from some of the biggest names to come out of the city, including Tobe Nwigwe, who has a recurring role as Mo’s best friend Nick. Growing up in Houston also exposed Amer to other communities, especially the Mexican community, and Teresa Ruiz plays his Mexican girlfriend, Maria. Through the season, Amer flows from English to Arabic to Spanish seamlessly, further displaying how growing up in Houston impacted him.
Amer created and executive produced the series alongside Ramy Youssef, who is his longtime friend and co-star on Hulu’s Ramy. The A24-produced Netflix series is off to an outstanding start, and Season 1 is masterful with its revisiting of Mo’s childhood, the flashbacks of him leaving his father and country behind, and sharing the struggles his family faced as they tried to assimilate into their new home. The story will not only resonate with millions of people who have shared in that experience, but it will also be a learning opportunity for those who have not. It’s not easy to make light of the pain we go through, but through his humor and transparency, Amer’s purpose is to help us all see the humanity in one another.
Check out our interview with Mo Amer below, where we talk about creating Mo, feeling nervous about sharing his most personal stories with the world, representing Houston, the musical influences on the show, and more.