In the US: Available on Hulu
When was the last time you saw a US TV programme with a Muslim lead in a show that explored what it was like to be a Muslim in modern America? Off the top of my head – and discounting shows with supporting characters who happened to be a bit Muslim but never really ever brought it up except to point out that they weren’t all terrorists, you know? – I’d say the last one was the much missed Aliens in America.
In the UK: Not yet acquired
A mere 11 years later, we now have Ramy, written by and starring Egyptian-American Muslim stand-up Ramy Youssef. It, too, is a comedy, which suggests that there are certain things in the US that can still only be broached through comedy.
In it, Ramy plays a thinly veiled version of himself, Ramy Hassan, who still lives at home with parents and still hasn’t found the right woman – right for either them or him. He’s initially dating a Jewish woman, but since he’s moderately religious, he’s been covering up most of his less party-friendly restrictions to himself – something that doesn’t please her when she finds out (“You said the other day that you couldn’t drink any more because you were up to your limit!” “Well, I was. It’s just my limit is zero.”)
Suffice it to say, he’s soon spurred on by his friends, family and people he meets at the mosque into dating a Muslim girl for the first time. Except he soon discovers that comes with its own set of issues (“Do you want her to be covered or uncovered?” his mother asks, when he suggests she set him up with a date).
Ramy alternates between the difficulties of dating as a Muslim-American and the difficulties of not being a 100% devout Muslim-American, but devout enough that it puts a slight damper on your lifestyle. Since although Ramy is largely an East meets West clash, it’s also a millennial meets traditional clash, in a way that would get the average intersectionalist very exciting and prepared to draw Venn diagrams.
Ramy believes in Allah, speaks Arabic and goes to prayer like a good Muslim. But does he wash between his toes before prayer, hmm? Sure, he doesn’t drink alcohol but will he sleep with a woman on their first date?
Ramy is largely about the negotiation of those sorts of boundaries for a generation of Muslim-Americans that don’t really have a guidebook to help them, any more than the rest of us do.
All of which makes Ramy novel viewing, as well as authentic viewing. At least for Muslim-American men. Because our intersectionalist will happily point out using that Venn diagram that it’s not exactly representative of the female Muslim-American experience. Ramy’s gaze is still a male gaze and this first episode at least doesn’t suggest that after embarking on his journey to understand Muslim women that at the end, he really achieved what he set out to do.
Young RamyThat millennial Venn circle also tends to exclude anyone older, who are equally caricatured, and it’s also set in New Jersey, which has its own micro-culture of its own. So watching it, I felt doubly, perhaps trebly or even quadruply removed from everything. If the jokes had been a little bit funnier and maybe a little bit less gynophobic, I’d have liked the first episode more, but as it is, it left me feeling educated, but not epiphanated.
I might try some more episodes of Ramy, to see if it gets better. It was at least funnier and more accessible than the early episodes of the similar, and ultimately quite good first season of Master of None, for example.
But episode one, at least, didn’t grip me. It’s new enough and different enough that it’s unlikely to fade in the memory, but it’ll have to do a bit more to make me definitely want to watch the rest of it.