American-Palestinian comedy directed by Mohammed Amer de Ramy finds its own way

The stakes are high for shows like “month“, netflixthe new comedy series from. For decades, television and film in the West have followed traditional political narratives, offering Muslims and Arabs of all faiths and none a narrow binary screen: you are either a villain or a victim. In recent years, shows like A24‘s”Rummy,” “Man like Mobeen,” and “We are lady partshave made great strides in changing that, offering much-maligned audiences the chance to see some of their own nuances reflected in them (not to mention allowing often-typed artists to play characters with more depth than Terrorist #7 or For each of these shows, however, even more reductive and essentialist portrayals of Muslims and Arabs come to our screens, deepening the need for more stories that claim ownership of narratives about these communities.

This beginning of a changing tide, so anything that tries to break away from the long screen line of single-note negative portrayals of Muslims and Arabs carries the weight of a lot of expectation and hope on its shoulders, like all those years of those diverse communities being flattened into cartoonish stereotypes loom large in the overhead. The relative scarcity of shows that attempt to break this mold in the television landscape means that they are under disproportionate pressure and risk being mistaken for representing something much bigger than themselves. It’s an enigma Rami Youssef, co-creator of “Mo” and his own eponymous show, must know that. Since the latter’s first season aired in 2019, the show and its taboo storylines have sparked intense debate and defensive rejection from some Muslim viewers who feel underserved by its portrayals.

“Mo, which also revolves around an Arab-American Muslim (played by co-creator Mohammad Amer, a co-star of Ramy Youssef in “Ramy”), seems to have learned lessons from its sister show A24. A Palestinian refugee who grew up in Kuwait before the Gulf War has moved his family to a suburb of Houston – where his father died prematurely after surviving torture in Kuwait and where his family is still awaiting asylum – the matrix of The experiences of titular Mo Najjar is so specific that it affirms the show’s right to exist on its own terms. Based largely on its creator-star’s own life, “Mo” leans heavily into the autobiographical subjectivity of its material. In doing so, he urges audiences to read it with a more appropriate sense of proportion: it’s Mo’s story, not necessarily someone else’s.

Naturally, this specificity does not prevent the connection of the public. The show is about shared experiences and universal themes like trauma and resilience as Mo struggles to process her grief and juggle an almost fatherly sense of family responsibility with hardships at work and in love. A born hustler, he turns to selling counterfeit designer goods from his trunk after quitting his job due to the threat of an ICE raid, a fact he keeps a secret from his mother Yusra (Farah Bsieso) and his brother Sameer (Omar Elba). He charmingly tackles this setback – and the many others – with all the buoyancy of a comedian (Amer himself has had two stand-up specials on Netflix). Take, for example, the moment when, stranded on the other side of the border, Mo casually lowers the high stakes of his predicament by telling the armed smugglers who hold his fate in their hands to “stop shaming him.” . Although Islam is mostly invoked as a precious means of consolation in the show, Mo’s faith is also sometimes intertwined in his comedy, such as when his Catholic girlfriend Maria (Therese Ruiz) makes him the sign of the cross and he “neutralizes” him with a reflexive “Astaghfirullah”. The jokes are plentiful and fast-paced, ensuring that the show’s roughly 25-minute episodes rarely deviate from the register of an easy, bingeable watch, Netflix’s specialty.

“Mo” points to some of the shortcomings of this fast food format: the audience’s short attention span is taken for granted, and so the melodramatic set pieces and cliffhangers are designed to form sharp adrenaline spikes in the brains of the viewers and maintain autoplay. function in good use. However, two elements work against this to give the show real texture and gravity, requiring more than passive viewer consumption: the family’s Palestinian identity and the show’s treatment of the memory of Mo’s father. , Mustafa. The series’ acute subjectivity and sincerity in this regard allows it to transcend its quickly digested and quickly forgotten format and become something genuinely meaningful. Every scene on or featuring Mustafa flashbacks (Mohammad Hindi) carries the unmistakable gravity of real memory and grief and every reference to Palestine, its occupation and the Najjars’ busy journey to Texas comes with a painful weight behind it.

The mere fact that Palestinian identity plays such a central role in the series is momentous in itself; moreover, it allows the series to recognize the cross-community bonds forged by the experiences of Mo and his family. In places, the show directs its spotlight accordingly: the season finale “Vamos” devotes a small portion of its attention to the dangers and hardships refugees face on the US-Mexico border. For example, parallels are drawn elsewhere with the injustices committed against the Karankawa people of the show’s Texas setting. They’re small moments, but they speak to the show’s self-awareness: she knows that in Alief, Houston, Mo’s experiences and the identity that informed them don’t isolate him from others – they connect him. .

As you might expect from the singular accent of its title, “Mo” largely revolves around the character of Amer. However, some effort is being made to devote some of the spotlight to the essential people in his life, including his Mexican-American girlfriend Maria, his mother Yusra and his brother Sameer. Maria is described as possibly being on the autism spectrum. Results vary, however: while Bsieso and Elba’s performances are solid, uneven writing means their characters still feel shallow in places. A tense moment in “Testimony,” the culmination of the Najjars’ legal efforts to gain asylum, hints at their hidden potential: Waiting their turn at the courthouse, Sameer wonders why Yusra never asked him if he wanted to get married. The scene might launch a deeper exploration of their inner lives – providing these characters with complex material comparable to Mo’s – but the question is quickly resolved and the show continues. The material Ruiz receives means his character feels even more distant: A subplot revolving around his troubled family backstory is briefly dealt with, part of a larger treatment scheme that means his character doesn’t feel not as full as the others.

The cast’s untapped potential aside, the show’s committed approach to casting is worth noting. Famous faces in the Arabic-language media, including a Palestinian actor Bsieso and “Jon Stewart of Egypt” Bassem Youssef – features alongside rising Arab-American stars like the Palestinian-American actor-director Cherien Dabis (like Mo’s estranged sister, Nadia) and Elba, an Egyptian-American actor. She was once called the stage name Alexander Black to avoid being pigeonholed. Even some of the show’s historical predecessors have occasionally dabbled in Hollywood’s lazy casting practices of casting generically “ethnic” actors to play Arabs, making concerted efforts to fill its credits with actors like Cynthia Yelle, Rana Haddad, Kamal Zaidand Moayad Alnefaie all the more remarkable. The show also doesn’t neglect to acknowledge the other side of Mo’s hyphenated identity. Arab artists like Duraid Lahham and Elyanna rub shoulders with the legends of Houston on the soundtrack Paul Wall and DJ Vis, while native Alief and rapper Tobe Nwigwe plays Mo’s best friend, Nick, and Bun B and Wall appear in cameo roles between shots of swangas, slabs, and giant presidents heads.

Sincerity like this helps give “Mo” a top-down emotional weight not usually present in shows of such a snack format. Just as Netflix prematurely canceled “One day at a time” has done so, the series elevates a familiar configuration by filling itself with material that is, if only by its very existence, quietly radical. At the same time, however, some of its shortcomings seem to result from adhering too closely to the artificial conventions of its genre. There may be some promise in this regard, however, as “Mo” has already shown himself to be confident enough to avoid the pressures that have been on him from the start and find his own path. Its cliffhanger ending is clearly asking Netflix to stick to it. If the triggering streamer does, perhaps the show will discover enough conviction in its second season to weed out the fabricated drama, leaving room in its short run to process. everything of his characters with the same thoughtful consideration he gives to Mo. [B+]

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