“Man Like Mobeen is a fine piece of television. Subjects that hadn’t previously been approached in any real depth, certainly in a comedy world, are faced head on”
Review by Brian Slade
How do you escape your criminal past when all around you keep dragging you back in? That was the challenge for Mobeen, a British Pakistani Muslim who is desperately trying to be the role model his younger sister needs, but whose friends and foes in the Small Heath area of Birmingham make that goal seem constantly unattainable.
Mobeen (Guz Khan) lives in a small end of terrace house with his 13-year-old sister Aqsa (Duaa Karim). He’s not had the easiest of starts in life. He responded to a step-dad who hit his mother by hitting him harder, causing his mother to leave for a life in Pakistan. Mobeen is trying to shed his previous life for the good of his young sibling while at the same time being a good Muslim. It’s not easy…his jailtime for drug supplies when aged 16 frequently comes back to haunt him.
Aqsa may only just have reached her teenage years, but she’s probably less in need of guidance than Mobeen himself. Mobeen has two main pals in his life – Eight and Nate. Nate (Tolu Ogunmefun) is a strong physical presence but is permanently ready to run a mile if trouble is brewing or the police are lurking. Meanwhile, Eight (Tez Ilyas) is a devoted friend to both Nate and Mobeen, but intelligence is not his strong point, particularly challenging given the scrapes the trio get into.
Early episodes are focussed on how Mobeen attempts to keep one step ahead of his past for the good of Aqsa. Aqsa can handle herself. She gets suspended from school for losing her temper with some playground bullies (‘I knocked one out, the other one grassed me up), and is bemused by Mobeen’s approval of her physical intervention She’s even smart enough to know the advice Mobeen should have been giving her.
During the first series, Mobeen’s circle gets dragged into encounters with the local police, in particular bringing him into the world of Officer Harper (Perry Fitzpatrick), who is at first an apparent racist but eventually reveals that the ‘your lot’ to whom he frequently refers are simply anybody who causes him paperwork. By the time the fourth series arrives, he’s very much in alliance with Mobeen and Nate and the part is a much more rounded one than that of the mouthy copper in the first series.
It's in the second series that Man Like Mobeen takes on a more episodic and somewhat more tragic tone. Mobeen’s old friend Cal (David Avery) is released from prison after nine years and comes to Mobeen to help him rebuild his life in order that he can see his daughter again. The ensuing run of events that follow Cal’s reappearance, even though he himself vanishes, drags Mobeen, Nate and Eight back into the criminal world they had so desperately tried to leave behind. In Mobeen’s case, that means getting dragged into the world of Uncle Khan (Art Malik), a drug lord that has the power to make life for Mobeen a living hell, or alternatively end him.
In lighter moments, Uncle Shady is on hand, the perfect comic antidote to Uncle Khan’s villainy. Shady (Mark Silcox) is brutal in his put downs – Mobeen is only ever referred to as bastard, albeit in the most politely monotone manner, and Shady consistently undermines his appearance and intelligence, as well as those of his friends. Nonetheless, he is a valuable ally, even more so as the series progresses.
Man Like Mobeen is a fine piece of television. Subjects that hadn’t previously been approached in any real depth, certainly in a comedy world, are faced head on. Drug gangs, knife crime and all manner of racist connotations are tackled with a refreshingly open approach, proving that comedy has a place in pretty much any area. Of particular note was a first season episode in which Aqsa throws an object at a far-right rally organiser and mouthpiece which ends in both he and Mobeen being locked in a police vehicle together. As Robbie, the apparent equivalent of Far-Right activist Tommy Robinson, tries to justify his views in the police van, Mobeen takes him down on each occasion with rational and comical arguments. He even tries to analyse Robbie’s reason for being so full of hate, tracking it back to a failed relationship… ‘most of us go through three tubs of Ben and Jerry’s and get over it – you set up a far-right-wing hate group instead.’ When Robbie passes out, Mobeen proudly proclaims that he has killed him with the power of his words, rather than the blood from his wound making him weak enough to faint!
Guz Khan, as a teacher in Coventry, had posted social media videos for his friends that spiralled via Steve Coogan into a massive BBC Three success. The fact that Man Like Mobeen was seen as ground-breaking is somewhat sad, given that it only began airing in 2017. It tried to rectify the damage done to the reputation of Birmingham when Fox News pronounced the city as being ‘totally Muslim’ and a no-go area for non-Muslim. And further it rebuffed the right-wing insistence that all Muslims are one step away from a paid-up membership of ISIS. That such a show could bring these things to our screens in the package of an at times truly hysterical comedy is a great testament to writers Khan and Andy Milligan, and Man Like Mobeen deserves all the plaudits that came its way.
Published on July 19th, 2023. Written by Brian Slade for Television Heaven.