TV TATTLE

Ramy outgrows Ramy in Season 2, making for a smarter, better show

  • Nearly half of the second season of Ramy Youssef's Hulu comedy isn't told from his character's perspective. "Season 2 avoids embodying its main character’s befuddlement," says Ben Travers. "Ramy may focus on arrested development, but it never lets itself get locked up." Travers adds: "Even in this first season, when we were first getting to know the horny little dreamer, Youssef sagely expanded the show’s focus beyond his main character to include episodes told from his mother and sister’s perspectives. Season 2 sees further expansion, as Ramy keeps making mistakes. With excellent pacing, solid structure, and a keen sense of humor, Ramy finds the kind of emotional assuredness its main character craves. It’s a smarter, better show for being so hard on Ramy, in part because it knows him well enough to not let the whole story rest on one young millennial’s shoulders."

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    • Ramy Season 2 is at its best when it's not about Ramy: "For Ramy, season two works best as an arc, a whole story that feels stronger as a total sum than it does when broken down to its constituent pieces," says Kathryn VanArendonk. "For everyone else, though, Ramy is most interesting and most arresting in the way it tells separate stories, finding flaws and humor and humanity for its minor characters in ways it often struggles to do for its main character. My sense is that Ramy most wants us to come away from the season with the image of Ramy’s eventual implosion. It’s a depressing but maybe deserved ending for the show’s main character. For me, though, the show’s portraits of the rest of his family are significantly more memorable and more lovely. In the end, Ramy does to its protagonist exactly what Ramy so desperately wants to do for himself: It’s very good at killing his ego. It erases him."
    • Season 2 is even better than Season 1: "There are so many small moments in the new episodes that have big meaning, and garner big laughs, while the show continues to push boundaries," says Lorraine Ali. “Ramy expands its commentary on faith, assimilation and coming of age in an American landscape that’s changing by the hour. Its fresh, entertaining perspective on religious radicalism, black Muslims, white converts and everything else once deemed a threat by Homeland is still a feat to behold. And it works on myriad levels: Season 2 is moving and profane. Stupid funny, then scary serious. Topical and evergreen. Hyperspecific with wide appeal."
    • Season 2 is more ambitious than Season 1, but also more polarizing: "For Ramy's follow-up season, Youssef largely trades in the intimate appeal of the debut season's observations of daily life and Egyptian-American identity for higher stakes and a sharp antiheroic pivot," says Inkoo Kang. "The ambition is admirable, but the results are bound to be polarizing. For my tastes, these 10 episodes are nowhere near as bracing or hilarious as last year's, while exposing the structural limitations of the series' creative team. But it's also hard to fault a bold showrunner like Youssef for taking as many big swings as he does here."
    • Season 2 burns its bridges, loses its laughs and doesn't hold back: Youssef "wields self-conscious television as a weapon, entirely absorbed by one character’s point-of-view and inner workings. A biting blade that can opine and observe as sharply as any one-liner, these small-scale examinations frequently skin awkwardness to reveal the meaty depths of anxiety and fear underneath," says Jacob Oller. "But disciples of self-devotion still require us to care about what happens to those around them. Self-destruction viewed myopically doesn’t hurt as much as experiencing it within its full social context. As Ramy completely gives into its lead’s grasping need during the Hulu drama’s second season, this all-consuming self-absorption—which is supposed to be its irritating, affecting point—robs the previously rich show of its lush dressings and leaves the season’s powerful supporting solar system annihilated by the yawning black hole of need that is its sadsack antihero."
    • Ramy Youssef has the confidence to let his character recede into the background, if not entirely disappear, for whole episodes at a time: "In January, Youssef won a Golden Globe for best actor in a comedy; the show, though, is best defined not by genre but by form—it’s an anthology of delicate, interwoven fables," says Doreen St. Félix. "Some are failed experiments in shock comedy. Take the Season 1 episode in which Steve, a truthtelling asshole played by Youssef’s real-life close friend Steve Way, who has muscular dystrophy, arranges a date with an underage girl. (Its mirror episode in the second season, set at Ramy’s bachelor party, in Atlantic City, is a more sophisticated exploration of sexuality and disability.) In other episodes, Youssef embellishes the show’s occasional surrealism with an underbaked wokeness. 'Mia Khalifa,' an episode set at the estate of an eccentric millionaire in Connecticut, is an indulgent fantasy sequence justified only by the fact that the titular former porn actor agreed to play herself. But, at their best, episodes stand alone as quietly voyeuristic flights of mindful empathy. Youssef takes particular pleasure in his middle-aged secondary characters. I loved, in the new season, the heartbreaking character study of Ramy’s uncle Naseem (Laith Nakli), a jolly brute who owns a jewelry store in the diamond district, and has secret rendezvous in the sauna at his local gym."
    • Ramy wants you to face your discomfort with its Season 2 tonal shift: "In Season 2, Ramy reveals itself to be a show with no such thing as a 'normal episode,'" says Promo Khosla. "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."
    • Ramy Season 2 is often a very dark show, much more so than its first: "In diving even deeper into faith, Ramy, by necessity, goes long on its companion: shame," says Joshua Rivera. "Multiple episodes have some of the most uncomfortable scenes I’ve seen on TV this year. However, the cringe comedy is also accompanied by a wonderful and warm empathy. The series presents a worldview that’s not interested in religion as a means of absolving people’s worst impulses, but as another avenue by which they can be understood. It’s a path to understand yourself and others as well as another avenue to let everyone down. In other words, it’s just a way to be human."
    • Hasan Minhaj was stunned watching Ramy for the first time: “I remember seeing the first few episodes, and my thought as a writer was, ‘Oh my God, I cannot believe he did this,’” says Minhaj. “I could not believe what I was watching.” He added of Youssef: That’s the thing I just respect him for — the audacity of the swings he took.”
    • Ramy Youssef is ready to move on from having "the first" of its kind Muslim show: “There are so many Muslim experiences and there should be more stories,” he says. “The ‘first’ thing is just predicated on scarcity, which is kind of silly when you see how many shows are being made per year and how many of them are, like, just spins of the same thing. But, you know, my show is ‘the Muslim show.’ It’s just kind of silly.”
    • Ramy writers blew up Season 2 for Mahershala Ali: The Oscar- and Emmy-winning actor offered himself up for Season 2 during a two-hour casual conversation with Youssef: At the end of the conversation, Ali casually dropped the line, “If you want me to be in Season 2, just let me know — any part, big or small, whatever you need, I’m there.” Youssef recalls: “We had been writing for a month at that point, and I went back to the writers’ room and was like, ‘Mahershala Ali wants to be in the show — we have to figure something out.'" So Youssef and his writers decided on “blowing up the whole season” in order to have Ali play Ramy’s sheikh, the vital moral compass at the heart of the new set of episodes.
    • Youssef calls working with Ali his "dream scenario": "I couldn’t have done it with anyone who wasn’t of the composure of him," he says. "It speaks to just how amazing this dude is, to meet someone who is this Academy Award winner two times over and walks onto the set of a sophomore show and says, 'What do you want me to do?' It’s really rare."
    • Youssef jokes "I have donated my likeness to Muslim science": Youssef said he expects to get hit hard over the Muslim community's reaction to Ramy Season 2. “We put out the first season and I got a Golden Globe for it, and we’re putting out the second season, and I think I’m more nervous than I was the first time around,” he said. Noting his delicate position, Youssef adds: “It keeps me up. I’m constantly praying like, please, God, I really hope my intentions were right in doing what I’m doing.”

    TOPICS: Ramy, Hulu, Ramy Youssef, Muslim Americans and TV




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