How Netflix Series Mo Balances Sideways Laughs With Heartfelt Drama

An Arab wearing a red t-shirt and blue windbreaker sits on a motorbike in front of the US-Mexico border wall.

In the final episode, Mo sits on a stolen motorcycle on the Mexican side of the US-Mexico border. Credit – Courtesy of Netflix

In the first episode of the Netflix series montha routine grocery store in Houston results in Palestinian refugee Mo Najjar (Mo Amer) getting caught in the middle of a shooting, but not before taking a moment to stand up for something he cares about.

“Hello, sir,” greets a grocery store employee who is handing out samples. “Do you want to try chocolate hummus?”

“Damn you just tell me?” Mo asks in disbelief. “Did you say chocolate hummus? “Do you know what you just did? You just insulted my grandmother. Yeah. ‘F-ck your bloodline. To hell with your culture.’

“Lo siento,” said the workman, completely serious. “I didn’t know hummus was Mexican.”

For a comedy filled with such delirious scenes, month is full of drama — and for that matter, trauma: Mo the character navigates filming, a later addiction to lean (a codeine-based drink), and the struggles of navigating the U.S. immigration system as a asking for asylum. The show, billed as a semi-autobiographical comedy-drama, follows Mo’s trials and tribulations in Alief, the Houston suburb where his family, originally from Palestine, settled after first living in Kuwait. month blurs the line between fiction and reality, with much of its plot coming directly from Amer’s life. Born in Kuwait to Palestinian parents, Amer and his family fled and settled in the United States during the first Gulf War.

“Although it’s a comedy, you have to lean into the tragedy,” Amer told TIME. “You have to let him breathe and not hesitate. Because it’s a tragic story.

Mo donne à l'employé de l'épicerie un morceau de pain pita trempé dans l'huile d'olive maison de sa mère.<span class=Rebecca Brenneman—Netflix” data-src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTcwNTtoPTQ3MA–/ RS_UELHN7lZ4rJHLDJGFTg–~B/aD0xNjAwO3c9MjQwMDthcHBpZD15dGFjaHlvbg–/″/>

The 41-year-old comedian and actor navigates his life in this way. When Amer is sad, he makes sure to sit in that emotion and feel it fully. When a situation is funny, he makes it hilarious, giving every emotion its due.

Amer—who co-wrote, created and starred in month– has already filmed two comedy specials for Netflix: 2018 Mo Amer: The Wanderer and Mo Amer: Mohammed in Texas in 2021. Both specials brim with almost palpable anxiety, an issue Amer didn’t realize he was dealing with until the pandemic hit in 2020. month unfolds in this space, the gray zone of anguish where things can be so funny and so tragic at the same time.

“I feel so at home and in the pocket when I create something and channel that energy,” Amer said. “And making comedy out of it is such a relief. It’s a natural relief.

Many scenes in month dealing with the challenges of succeeding as an immigrant and the ever-changing concept of home. The third episode of month opens with a flashback: a lush hillside in Burin, Palestine, zooming in on a white brick house with red awnings – it’s actually the house of Amer’s grandparents. Later in the episode, a lawyer lets Mo slip that his family’s asylum claim to live in the United States is based on the fact that his father was tortured, which shakes him to the core. The scene is based on real-life experiences, something Amer hasn’t openly shared until now.

Dans un flashback, la famille de Mo fait la queue devant un bus pour quitter le Koweït.<span class=Courtesy of Netflix” data-src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTcwNTtoPTM1MQ–/ TnrAVBQwpvqNWuc.Ojh2Vg–~B/aD0xMTk2O3c9MjQwMDthcHBpZD15dGFjaHlvbg–/″/>

While filming the scene, Amer realized that he had never cried about directing in his real life, nor dealt with the pain his father had endured. It was beyond bizarre, he said, to show real breakdown on camera for the world to experience alongside him, but it also proved the healing power of art.

“There’s a lot of real stuff on the show that you can’t write,” he said. “You could sit around for 10 years, 20 years, and you wouldn’t think of anything as good as this. It just won’t happen. So when it’s there for you and it’s already that good, you just use it.

Other instances, however, such as Mo’s addiction to lean, are pure fiction. But for Amer, he never really wanted to switch between playing or not. Rather, his approach revolved around feeling “in touch”.

“I have a sensitive antenna,” he says. “I can feel another person’s energy very quickly. So it suits me very well for acting in the series – or whatever I do in front of the camera.

In the video interview, he wore a silver necklace he designed that said “Mo” in Arabic. It also has the shape of a key, a symbol of deep significance to the Palestinians which represents the right to return to their homes. bitter hope month humanizes his land and his people. Her mother’s character (played by Farah Bsieso) simultaneously yearns for home and puts down roots, eventually starting her own olive oil business with Mo’s brother, Sameer, who has autism spectrum disorder (played at adorable perfection by Omar Elba.) Mo’s sister (Cherien Dabis), meanwhile, has assimilated to the point of estrangement from her family, marrying a Canadian and raising a son between cultures.

“The bottom line is about belonging: feeling considered equal to the human next to you,” Amer said. “And I think for so many years Palestinians – if not Arabs and Muslims – have been so anonymous in entertainment.”

Amer refers to the documentary Real Bad Arabs– an expansion of a book of the same name by Jack Shaheen – which details the story of how Hollywood has reviled Arabs through the ages. For him, month is a chance to turn the tide of representation through the prism of a beautiful, authentic, dysfunctional Palestinian family.

“It’s like this little restaurant that’s so good that not many people know about it,” said the Algerian American rapper and Netflix comedy-drama creator. It’s Bruno Solvan “Slick” Naim, who directed the series, tells TIME. “Friends should tell you about it. It’s amazing, it’s not like commercials. This is one of those special places.