DUBAI: Comparisons between “Mo,” currently streaming on Netflix in the Middle East, and the Emmy-nominated “Ramy” are inevitable. For one thing, the eponymous star — Mo Amer — stars in “Ramy,” whose eponymous star Ramy Youssef co-created “Mo” with Amer. Second, both shows are about the experiences of young Arabs in America, struggling to reconcile their Muslim heritage with the Western culture that has helped form them.
Those comparisons should not obscure the fact that “Mo” is very much its own show — and an extremely good one.
Amer — a Kuwait-born Palestinian whose family fled Kuwait during the Gulf War and ended up in Houston, Texas, where he became a comedian and actor — plays Mo Najjar, a Kuwait-born Palestinian whose family fled Kuwait during the Gulf War and ended up in Houston, Texas, where he scrapes a living doing whatever work he can find without official documentation and selling knock-offs from his car boot. He lives with his mother and his socially anxious elder brother Sameer, idolizes his late father, and is happiest spending time with his girlfriend Maria (a Mexican catholic) and his best friend Nick.
The central plot line deals with his family’s long-running (22 years and counting) campaign for asylum in the US, painfully stymied by inept bureaucracy and red tape.
The ensemble cast does a wonderful job bringing the story to life — playing it as straight as any top-class drama. At its heart is Amer as Mo — a big-hearted, flawed, frustrated, charismatic hustler who is immediately engaging. You want things to work out for him. And it’s not an easy role. So much of Mo’s life could be overwhelmingly depressing, but Amer brings the character’s tireless optimism to the fore, while still offering glimpses of the tension, anger and sense of injustice he (mostly) manages to keep bottled up. He’s helped by the excellent Teresa Ruiz as Maria, who helps make their relationship instantly believable, such is the warm chemistry between the pair.
While it’s a genuinely funny show, “Mo” is also a thought-provoking one, covering topics including the Palestinian experience, religion, race, love, identity, duty versus desire, and the increasing gap between the haves and have-nots with a light but intelligent touch that packs a punch without being preachy.
The only slight misstep comes at the very end. It may be a deliberate move — a statement that life doesn’t provide neatly packaged conclusions — but so much is left unresolved that it feels rushed. Hopefully, that’s just because a second series is on the way. “Mo” (whether the show or its creator) has more than earned it.