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Faithless review: Baz Ashmawy’s irreverent new comedy isn’t subtle but it is brutally funny

Television: This series packs in gritty family drama, puerile humour and astute commentary on sly Irish racism

Irish broadcasting does not encourage ambition or reinvention. Once you’ve found your box, you are expected to stay in it until the end of time. So you have to credit presenter Baz Ashmawy for trying something different with his excellent new sitcom, Faithless (Virgin Media One, Monday 9pm).

He’s both star and writer of this loosely autobiographical comedy about an Irish man of Egyptian heritage living in a country still on the learning curve regarding multiculturalism and diversity. Ashmawy has said he “wasn’t trying to ram” anything down the neck of viewers and, as a dissection of multicultural Ireland, Faithless steps lightly.

It’s about the only subtle element in an irreverent comedy that begins with Ashmawy’s on-screen wife (Dawn Bradfield) mowed down by an ice cream van. Later, there are knob gags galore and a set piece involving a pornographic Star Wars.

Irish comedy doesn’t have the richest of track records – unless Channel 4 is involved, as it was with Father Ted and Derry Girls. Happily, none of that weighs on Faithless, which is potty-mouthed and uproarious from the start.


As an actor, Ashmawy is clearly finding his feet. But his script – six years in the writing – delivers zingers at a regular clip. It also has intelligent things to say about grief and the challenge of raising teenagers in a rapidly changing country.

In one brutally funny early scene, Ashmawy’s useless dad character, Sam, struggles to tell his daughters that their mother has died.

He tries to soft-soap it by blurting, “she’s in hospital but she’s gone”, which leads to misunderstanding and stands as a devastating critique of Irish people’s inability to directly address difficult subject matter. We would rather talk around it in increasingly desperate paroxysms of prevarication, and it is a detail that Ashmawy nails with huge skill.

Faithless also has lots to say about the performative uselessness of the middle-aged Irish male. Sam is a classic of the species.

He’s a writer who has never actually had anything published, a dad who can barely get his kids out to school, and, until his wife’s death, a selfish man-baby of a husband. It’s a portrait that will chime with more than a few viewers. You have to credit Ashmawy with performing something alarmingly adjacent to public sector broadcasting in holding up a mirror to a very real Irish archetype.

Gritty family drama is mixed in, too. After their mother’s death, Sam’s middle daughter Layla (Noor Salem) embraces her Muslim heritage by wearing a hijab at school (she has to explain to one of her classmates that it isn’t actually a helmet).

Her older sister Lina (Suzie Seweify) has, for her part, had enough of their sad-sack dad and reads a flensing poem about his childishness to her class. The sly racism that is an Irish speciality is meanwhile represented by Sam’s brother-in-law Cormac (Art Campion), who thinks black Irish people should be innately good at basketball and is speechless when Sam calls him out on it.

It isn’t perfect. Some of the acting is wonky, and its unpacking of grief does not always sit easily alongside the toilet humour. Some viewers will weary of the insistent puerility. Still, Faithless is brought to the screen with great earnestness, and it is that rare Irish series that feels rooted in the country in which we live (filmed in Bray, Co Wicklow, it unfolds in the commuter zone never-never land in which so many of us reside).

Ashmawy could have presumably spent the rest of his career presenting travel shows or quizzes. But he went out on a limb with Faithless, and you can only commend him for having the courage to step beyond his comfort zone.