“Ramy” goes to messy places in its strong second season

Ramy Season 2 I'm starting to think those guys at Verizon had a point. Ramy (Ramy Youssef), shown. (Photo by: Craig Blankenhorn/Hulu)

The Muslim-American actor and comedian returns for another bracingly funny, probing season about faith and purpose and failure.

If nothing else, Ramy Youssef is willing to go to messy places. The sophomore season of Youssef’s eponymous Hulu dramedy Ramy continues the character’s spiritual journey, sending new tests from God and a few rocky situations that don’t seem to be tests at all. The key to Ramy’s journey isn’t the idea that Islam holds all the answers. This time, he’s trying to accept what every scientist and holy person has been trying to accept since the beginning of time — it’s okay to not know

Ramy begins the season still concerned with the same set of problems from the first season. He’s caught between the hedonistic nature of his generation and his devotion to a religion that sees life as a moral test, to borrow his own words. This season his struggle takes the form of his continued anguish over an incestuous tryst, his worsening porn addiction, and his relationship with a new enigmatic Sufi teacher, Shiekh Ali (Mahershala Ali).

The most interesting relationship (and the most important thread in the first six episodes provided to critics) is Ramy’s relationship with this new teacher. Ali brings his trademark gravitas to another soft-spoken role; he’s both welcoming and stern, a mysterious teacher, steeped in Sufi traditions yet warm and modern. Ramy is lost after the events of the first season, not sure if he wants to continue down the path that he’s on. His own insecurities mixed with pure intentions make a mess of Ali’s Sufi Center, but he doesn’t stop trying to figure out his problems. 

Ramy Season 2
Ramy (Ramy Youssef) and Sheikh Ali Malik (Mahershala Ali), shown. (Photo by: Craig Blankenhorn/Hulu)

Youssef and co-directors Cherien Dabis & Christopher Storer find unassuming, natural New Jersey landmarks that make Ramy a gratifying show to watch. That said, it gets into territory that it isn’t sure how to handle, like when Ramy decides to get a homeless soldier with PTSD a job working at Sheikh Ali’s center. The setting and non-showy camerawork paint a naturalistic version of the state’s Muslim population, and even when the drama gets a little cheesy, it stays grounded and funny in the face of intense situations it can’t always handle.

For example, Ramy gets into dicey territory with a messy, audacious episode titled “They.” Concerned with the pronouns of one of Masya’s (Succession’s Hiam Abbass) Lyft passengers, the episode manages to navigate the trickiest of modern TV’s “issues” while still messing up slightly. 

On one hand, Abbass succeeds in portraying a confused older person who’s concerned with language and her upcoming citizenship test. However, the episode can’t decide what it wants the non-binary trans femme at the center of the episode to be, aside from confusing to an older person. The episode peters out, becoming laughable when two trans people call the police (ha!), but it doesn’t let itself off easy. To his credit, Youssef and company seem genuinely interested in exploring the situation as opposed to simply scoring woke points. 

Ramy improves on its first season by refusing to rest on its laurels, continuing to pose deep spiritual questions while making you laugh.

Ramy isn’t entirely a melodramatic faith drama. In fact, Youssef’s humor and absurdist tendencies are what keep the show engaging. Standout laughs come in episode four when Ramy and Fatima (Jade Eshete) travel to an incredibly wealthy man’s compound to secure funding for the Sufi Center. Some surreal jokes about the insanity of the rich include a lengthy diversion about drinking breast milk and an appearance by “the LeBron James of praying.”

Ramy’s friends Mo (Mohammed Amar), Stevie (Steve Way), and Ahmed (Dave Merheje) offer more traditional single-camera jokes, including a lengthy aside about their favorite reciters of the Quran (“He’s real lo-fi”). They bring much-needed put-downs when Ramy’s spiritual self-obsession becomes a little too much to bear. Even when narrative choices were making me nervous, I was still laughing, which is the best endorsement you can give any comedy.

The faults of Ramy season 2 can only be chalked up to understandable ignorance. For a show that so proudly proclaims that it doesn’t know, this becomes an asset. Ramy improves on its first season by refusing to rest on its laurels, continuing to pose deep spiritual questions while making you laugh. It’s refreshing and inventive to see a show take such a bold, simple stance in an age of overcomplicated themes and mysteries. Ramy doesn’t know what he’s after in season two. But he’s finally committing to the journey, for better or worse.

Ramy season 2 is currently streaming on Hulu.

Ramy Season 2 Trailer:

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