Recommended: Mo on Netflix
What's Mo About?
Mo, an undocumented Palestinian refugee living in Houston, works side hustles to support his family while avoiding the law and waiting for his luck to improve.
Why (and to whom) do we recommend it?
It's probably too glib to label Mo as Ramy 2.0, but it's just a simple law of commercial TV: Hits beget spinoffs. And indeed Ramy — where standup comic Mo Amer played Ramy's friend Mohammed — begat Mo, from the same production company, with a lead character named Mo, who is also torn between a tight-knit immigrant family and his American dreams. But this is not the same Mo who lives in Jersey City and has a buddy named Ramy. Here he plays an undocumented immigrant trying to get by while lying low in Houston.
Like any good iteration, Mo takes its audience places the original didn't. Where Ramy did a nice bit of world-building, devoting plenty of spotlight and even entire episodes to side characters like Ramy's parents and imam, Mo is centered on Mo. Armed with a standup's quick wit, he can joke his way out of seemingly any situation (the one he tells about fat-shaming offers an especially thrilling escape). Maybe later seasons can explore his mom's olive-oil business, but for now the focus is on its hero's quest — which, like that of many immigrants, is both tightly focused and very unsure of what's coming next — and that seems well within its star's wheelhouse.
Despite the perpetual high stakes of his precarious existence, Mo is more warm-hearted than Ramy. Forced to earn a living selling questionable items out of his trunk, Mo embraces his quest for legitimacy with brio and a steady stream of lines, just as one would expect of Amer, with solid pacing and just enough bite. A running gag is Mo having to explain to people that he's Palestinian, not Mexican — a “branding issue,” as he puts it.
Another key difference is that whereas Ramy showed that Muslims can be just as irreverent toward their faith as Christians, Mo's dicey existence is fueled, in part, by genuine faith. "Islam is real practical; you can talk to G-O-D anytime," he observes. He's not super-pious — besides the legally sketchy work he gets into, his girlfriend Maria (Ruiz) is a devout Catholic — and the show's appeal partly derives from Mo's faith in himself, if you will. Still, it would be lovely if more American TV shows celebrated the inner worlds of their main characters like Mo did.
Mo is also a celebration of all things Houston, a city notorious for its ICE raids and black market in human smuggling, but also bursting with multinational vitality and industry. Houstonians will appreciate the cultural references to the town they know well but which much of America, owing to the dearth of Texas-based TV shows, doesn't. (This fall Amer is hosting a digital series for PBS called Welcome to Alief, about "an ethnically diverse neighborhood that, according to Census data, currently mirrors what America will look like in 2050.") Further upping the show's cred, Houston-based hip-hop notables Bun B, Paul Wall, and Tobe Nwigwe make appearances in Season 1.
If you're expecting a series about a Palestinian refugee living in a U.S. border town to have its political moments, then Mo won't disappoint. Having said that, the show's greatest virtue may be that it rarely forgets that it's a fast-paced, breezy sitcom that doesn't linger too long on our conscience. Whether that's a reflection on Netflix or on us, it works. Welcome to America, Mo.
Pairs well with