One of the more thought-provoking developments in recent years in terms of American series is the increasing number of shows that shine a light on cultural realities which up to now had taken a back-row seat on TV programming schedules. Not so any longer, as it isn’t hard to find a number of series that showcase other perspectives to share with audiences. These shows tend to be sit-coms centered around family life and packaged as versioned typical family series that we’ve seen hundreds of times before. The “Life in America” is not the same for everyone, a fact reflected in series including “Black-ish” and “Atlanta”; from the African-American’s point of view, “Fresh Off the Boat”; from an Asian American perspective, “Vida”; a Latin American take, and “Master of None”; from an Indo-American angle. Interestingly, these shows were all released coinciding with the political rise of Donald Trump and of course, the relationship between the two is by no means a mere fluke. The latest contender in this category, and pluckier than its predecessors, is “Ramy”, which takes a bold step and offers viewers a glimpse at an American Muslim’s outlook on life in the US.
“Ramy” is bolder because, if there’s one reality that has been over-simplified and stereotyped ad nauseam on American television, it has to be for those of Muslim faith. Of late we’ve become increasingly accustomed to the presence of Muslim characters in series exhaustingly portraying the role of the terrorist, and more often than not, in a supporting role taking pride of place as the villain. As such, what comedian Ramy Youssef achieves in “Ramy” is to partially dismantle this version of the Muslim world by introducing a diversity of profiles as protagonists. Its greatest success however is that this was never his intention when creating the show, but a consequence of what he genuinely set out to deliver; to narrate compelling stories about a Muslim family of Egyptian origin and reflect the contradictions they experience as Americans. “Ramy” essentially revolves around the difficulties faced by the main character, a typical millennial of his generation, in navigating the choppy seas of a world filled with situations his faith considers “haram”. How can he make both worlds compatible? Should he accept some rules and discard others when it suits him? The tension this creates is akin to what we enjoyed watching Norwegian series “Skam”, where Sana, the main character in season four, struggles with feeling torn between two incompatible worlds. So, the question posed here is, should Ramy be forced to choose between them?
This contradiction fuels the choices his character makes and results in his decisions producing some truly hilarious results. Ramy’s particular sense of humor results in surreal situations reminiscent of “Louie” (both share a conversation with Bin Laden) together with the comedic attributes of the family sitcom. The series explores issues including the burden of tradition, the need to be true to your own roots, the search for your own path, and the relationship between parents and children in situations that make us smile and, from time to time, even cry. One of its strengths is that it ensures the complexity of every character by devoting entire episodes to secondary roles. Some of the greatest moments from season one are those featuring Ramy’s mother and his sister. In the second season, which incorporates Mahershala Ali as our leading man’s spiritual guide, the series delivers some magnificent episodes where the spotlight is on his father and his uncle. These installments are instrumental in consummating the creator’s goal of portraying what life is like for a Muslim in the United States. And, as I’ve already mentioned, the outcome is something not just imperative, but also funny, tender, emotional, and honest, not the class of adjective we could readily apply to many series nowadays. “Ramy” is available in Spain on the Starzplay platform.