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SHAHID-QURESHI: Hulu's popular show 'Ramy' teaches important, relatable lessons about making mistakes

Column: On the Street

Hulu's new hit TV show "Ramy," starring Ramy Youssef, is a much-needed commentary on what it means to be a good person, something applicable to all of our lives. – Photo by Ramy Youssef / Twitter

If you know anything about Hulu’s "Ramy," you know it is very different from most shows out right now. The show centers around the life of Ramy Hassan, a young Arab American from New Jersey trying to figure out how to be a good person and strengthen his connection to his religion. Some episodes focus on his family members and tell their experiences, taking a step away from Hassan's slow progress and frequent lapses in self-improvement.

No matter who the episode focuses on, "Ramy," as a whole, has distinctive success at portraying failure and disappointment to tell an engrossing story that looks underwhelming at first glance.

Admittedly few shows devote so much time to unraveling any and all progress in the protagonist, and none seem to go as far as Hassan, leaving you completely unsure of what to make of him the more you learn about him. Almost every attempt he makes to live by his values and deepen his faith is swiftly followed by his failure to sustain that improvement beyond words with his choices and actions.

But whether it is Hassan's holier-than-thou attitude or the double standard between his freedom and his sisters’, Hassan depicts the unique but simultaneously recognizable experiences of young people when they try to navigate religion in today’s agnostic America. By focusing on the struggles of its characters, "Ramy" highlights the merit of sharing stories of Brown people who are not “woke” but are also not reliant on stereotypes.

Instead, Hassan presents characters that are relatable, not due to the groups they identify with — Muslim, Brown, first-generation immigrants — but due to their struggle to find peace with themselves in the myriad of paths people are told to follow.

Whenever Hassan looks within, he is unhappy with what he sees. Despite his dissatisfaction, every time he gets the opportunity to make good choices, he falls short of controlling his desires.

Just a few of the decisions sustaining his failure are when he has an affair with a married mother from the mosque, gets an underage girl drunk and judges his family and friends for behavior he indulged in but feels uncomfortable seeing them partake in, citing the detrimental distance from Islam this behavior produces.

The faults one could attribute to naivety in his first few transgressions escalate and make Hassan appear hopelessly arrogant and immoral. But despite his shortcomings, some small moments of genuine kindness toward others and remorse for the damage he causes coalesce to make Hassan a person one can root for.

Hassan's redeemable qualities — kindness, vulnerability, a desire to improve — create the impression that he will succeed this time, every time. When he fails instead, it is easy to feel frustrated. But that liability to make errors is very human.

While watching the show, I found many behaviors in common between Hassan and people in my own life, even myself. Although the specific events Hassan found himself in remain exclusive to Hassan, his frequent inability to get out of his own way, for example, is all too familiar to me.

Wanting to feel happy with your life and your choices is natural. Anxiety over the future and discontentment with the present are almost fixtures in the period of young adulthood many of us are navigating right now. There always seems to be room for self-improvement through good academic performance, better habits and being kind to everyone. 

The problem is that the slightest slip in this endeavor can make the effort feel worthless. Happiness can feel less and less attainable when one is accustomed to failure. Giving up feels like the inevitable end to many self-improvement journeys, cementing negative perceptions of oneself instead of motivation to try again.

But Hassan ultimately presents a case for the idea that people are worth believing in, even when it seems that they are giving every reason to leave them behind. If one person remembers another's earnest effort to improve in his or her low moments, they are able to offer strength so the other can advance forward.

Hassan is shown forgiveness for most of his mistakes until he commits particularly egregious ones, at which point he is left on his own. But the remarkable generosity and care his friends and family gave him, coupled with his work on becoming a better person, are not easily displaced by his mistakes.

The plot that he will redeem himself completely through religiousness and integrity — and find strength in the love and forgiveness those around him show him — is simplistic. No one can fix him except himself. Others can support him, but his evolution is his alone.

It is safe to say Hassan's value is not limited to the uniqueness of portraying a Muslim lead in an American show. While the show is certainly influenced by the culture and religion of its characters, it is primarily about the complex life of a young man who cannot be happy with himself, a problem that is relatable to a much larger subset of the audience.

Hassan's appeal is rooted in the main character’s genuine, taxing and slow search for self-improvement and, equally, in the shows’ conviction that people should be loved how they are if they are to improve.

Aiza Shahid-Qureshi is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in political science. Her column, "On the Street," runs on alternate Mondays.


*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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