Late in the first episode of Netflix’s Mo, the title character (played by Mo Amer, who also co-created the series with Ramy Youssef) gets shot while shopping for cat food. Well, grazed — he’ll be fine once he’s treated at the hospital, the paramedics reassure him. Mo panics, as freaked out by the prospect of running up a medical bill without health insurance as he is by the fact of what’s actually happened to him. Meanwhile, the jaded EMTs bicker over his gurney about whether the shooting counts as “mass” if only four people were hit, including the shooter.
The scene feel darkly funny and a touch surreal, in the way the most harrowing moments of real life often do. It’s a distinctive example of what Mo does so well. Over eight half-hour episodes, the dramedy keeps itself afloat through a likable sense of humor and an eye for clever details, even as it frequently wades into deep, heavy waters.
The Bottom Line
Smart, self-assured and often very funny.
Airdate: Wednesday, August 24 (Netflix)
Cast: Mo Amer, Teresa Ruiz, Farah Bsieso, Omar Elba, Tobe Nwigwe
Creators: Mo Amer, Ramy Youssef
By the time Mo begins, Mo Najjar and his family — including Yusra (Farah Bsieso), his devoted mother, and Sameer (Omar Elba), his cat-loving big brother who seems to be on the spectrum — have spent 22 years in Houston waiting for their application for asylum to be approved after fleeing first Palestine, then Kuwait. At the moment, life is good enough, though not without its challenges: Mo’s status as what he calls a “refugee free agent” without citizenship in any country has him in limbo, allowed to remain in the U.S. for now but not technically permitted to work, and under constant threat of deportation for one wrong move.
As might be expected from a series that bears his name, centers on a character named after him and is inspired by his own real-life experiences, Mo ultimately lives or dies by Amer’s charisma, and fortunately he has it in spades. The onscreen Mo is a teddy bear of a dude with an easy smile and an admirable (if often misguided) sense of protectiveness toward his friends and family. He’s only reluctantly and occasionally a salesman — he starts shilling fake luxury goods out of his trunk after the threat of an ICE raid pushes him out of a previous job — but it’s clear he’s a natural, able to meet just about anyone at their level. Take it from the old white man who initially dismisses Mo’s counterfeit Yeezys as “alien shoes,” only to walk away minutes later with $300 worth of merch.
Mo is built around that gift of connection. Amer shares a sweetly relaxed chemistry with castmates like Teresa Ruiz, who plays his girlfriend Maria, or Tobe Nwigwe, who plays his childhood BFF Nick; they’re by his side in his most desperate moments, but they’re…