At a Texan courthouse, while waiting for his family’s number to be called for a long-awaited hearing, Mo (Mo Amer) starts having a sweaty meltdown at precisely the least convenient moment. Fresh off a fight with his girlfriend Maria (Teresa Ruiz), worried sick for his mother, Yusra (Farah Bseiso), and in disbelief that his Palestinian refugee family might actually be getting the asylum they’ve needed for so long, Mo’s so overwhelmed and impatient that he can barely stay in his seat. As with most every episode of “Mo,” Netflix’s new series created by Amer and Ramy Youssef (“Ramy”), the stakes are as high as Mo’s escalating blood pressure.
But “Mo” is also a comedy with a fast-talking lionheart at its center, and as such, even this incredibly stressful time can vibrate with frissons of the ridiculous. Mo tussles with a security guard who refuses to share his water when the vending machine breaks. Yusra, who’s spent years waiting for this day, can’t stop fixating on Mo’s accusation that her giving Maria a cuff bracelet to hide her crucifix tattoo was not, in fact, an entirely altruistic act. Their flighty former lawyer (Cynthia Yelle) smugly parades her current client in front of their new lawyer (Lee Eddy), who’s perfectly competent but immediately loses points for not being Palestinian. Meanwhile, Mo’s brother Sameer (Omar Elba) briefly goes missing to chase an apparently rare finch. Even as they’re all doing their best to keep themselves and their family in one piece, the show keeps finding ways to let Mo and the rest of the Najjar family remain entirely themselves.
Over eight half-hour episodes, “Mo” drops us into Mo’s life in Texas in the months before he gets to this hearing. Years after his family fled Kuwait, and unable to return home to Palestine, Mo’s now an affable hustler selling designer replicas out of his trunk while juggling jobs that will look past his lack of U.S. citizenship. Director Solvan “Slick” Naim finds a loose rhythm that swings between the Najjars and occasional flashbacks to Mo’s childhood when Mo’s father (Mohammad Hindi) was still alive with lived-in ease. Shot on location in Houston, “Mo” approaches every location — whether a boxing ring, strip club, $6 million mansion, or bucolic olive grove — with the same possibility of a story waiting to be told.
Mo’s devoted relationship to his family is immediately believable and clear, as is his breezy dynamic with best friend Nick (Tobe Nwigwe) and close bond with Maria (played with grounded charm by Ruiz). Even when the show throws Mo into deeper waters — particularly with local gangster Dante (Rafael Castillo) or accidental joyride to Mexico — his deeply relatable “how the hell did I end up in all this?!” reactions make him a solid guide through every surprising turn.
As most anyone who knows Mo well enough can tell, though, his ability to joke through any situation belies a sharp sadness he refuses to acknowledge to the point of the aforementioned sweaty meltdown. Because, yes: “Mo” might be a comedy, but it’s still following the journey of a specific experience of unprocessed grief and trauma that follow refugees like the Najjars around their entire lives. That Mo still finds so many reasons to laugh anyway is a credit to the show’s ability to tell a truly nuanced story of a man, family, and Palestinian experience that television rarely acknowledges at all, let alone spotlights with half as much consideration and style as “Mo.”
“Mo” is now available to stream on Netflix.