Review: “Mo” Portrays a Heartfelt and Fraught Journey

Review: “Mo” Portrays a Heartfelt and Fraught Journey

“Mo” is a dramedy about an undocumented immigrant family trying to make ends meet in Houston, with many trials and mishaps along the way, especially from Mohammad “Mo” Najjar himself. The show is semi-autobiographical for its creator Mo Amer, a Palestinian-American standup comedian and actor. He co-created the series for Netflix along with Ramy Youssef, whose show “Ramy” is currently streaming on Hulu.

“Mo” keeps a quick, energetic pace, punctuated by slower moments of contemplation from the main character and an occasional shift in focus on members of Mo’s family. Mo’s mother Yusra, played by Farah Bsieso, has a particularly moving role, portraying a simultaneous strength and vulnerability shaped by her experience of running from a home she thought was safe and supporting her family along the way. 

The breaths between the show’s otherwise quick-firing humor bring all the more depth to the characters, notably in the scene in Episode 2, titled “Yamo,” where Yusra is making olive oil. The scene is filmed with a sense of reverence for the character and the act of making olive oil. The series imbues the family with their traditions and their heritage, from Mo’s pride in his Palestinian identity to moments of cultural resonance like this. 

Mo and his family’s application for U.S. asylum is a central point of the plot, and the fear of ICE and of deportation is ever-present. Amer’s character portrays this trauma with a bravado that clearly masks deep anxiety over his statelessness. 

The show handles a precarious balance between preposterous humor and the equally preposterous consequences of the asylum system and application process on refugee families like Mo’s. The exaggerated situations and humor serve a dual purpose, as in a scene where Mo must work as a bouncer in a strip club and or a storyline in which he can’t go to a hospital for fear of being deported.

Houston itself is a strong presence in the series, from the music by Houston natives to the switching between three languages — English, Spanish, and Arabic, his mother tongue. Amer’s culture and childhood experiences are clearly key to the series, especially its exploration of Mo’s identity and his attempt to make something of himself to support his family. Mo also struggles with his identity as a Muslim, which is an unfortunately common portrayal of Muslims in TV and film, but this is not made the central conflict in the show, which is an improvement from the past.

The series, by way of making its story so specific to the Najjars and their experience as refugees and undocumented immigrants, personalizes and humanizes the political nature of their situation. Each member of the cast brings a warmth to their characters and interactions, making it easy to root for them, despite the titular character’s many flaws.

While “Mo” leans into shock value frequently, it provides a portrait of a family stuck in limbo at the hands of a system that does not seem to want them, in a country that is not their own. Overall, the series carries the fraught nature of their living situation and their resolute determination to keep going with genuine laughs and rich characters.

Great! You’ve successfully signed up.

Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.

You've successfully subscribed to Fann.

Success! Check your email for magic link to sign-in.

Success! Your billing info has been updated.

Your billing was not updated.