Never Have I Ever, Show Runner – Mindy Kaling
A Netflix teen drama starring an Indian lead? Well, that’s new and that’s exactly what attracted me towards the show the most. The show follows the life of Devi, a first generation Indian-American sophomore living in Southern California, who’s trying to re-brand herself and get popular at school. Right away, it was nice to see an Indian character not being portrayed as the nerdy stereotype in an American Sit-com. This story is very personal to Mindy Kaling, and it’s apparent from the care it is given to make these characters feel authentic – these are her experiences of growing up Desi in America, updated to a 2020 setting. Now, I’m not ABCD (American Born Confused Desi) girl, but these experiences are quite universal if you’ve grownup in a South-Asian household. Especially now, since our current is so much exposed to the western media through the internet, streaming apps, e.t.c. So, even if you’re living in a strict house under the super-spy vigilance of your parents, you’re not entirely living in a bubble. Teenagers today and opinionated, liberal, demand respect and frankly quite out there (and yeah, they’re still horny af). So, the divide between the generations is bigger than ever.
Devi is, needless to say, a virgin, and also an intelligent firebrand with a seemingly effortless command of power-points, witty barbs and topical-enough pop culture references (“Yeah, but he has a hot face. You’ll be like Zayn and Gigi,” she tells her friend as a boyfriend sales pitch). She’s also a master deflector, reeling, with a John McEnroe-style short fuse, from a massive loss. (McEnroe, for no reason seemingly beyond the fact they could get him, narrates the series.) “As you know,” she half-prays, “last year sucked for a number of reasons.” As abruptly revealed in what seems like a first-episode bit but is not, her beloved father – a sunny, unbridled presence in sepia flashbacks and dream sequences, and Devi’s only true best friend – died of a heart attack at her orchestra concert the year prior. The shock paralyzed her for three months (teenagers: not forgiving of the concept “psychosomatic”), forcing her to use a wheelchair. Only the sight of her crush, swim-team boy and said stone-cold hottie Paxton Hall-Yoshida (Darren Barnet) – a layered mystery or stock jock character, depending on the scene – and the promise of a “rebrand” in sophomore year, zaps Devi back on her feet.
It’s so refreshing to see someone like Devi to be given plot like since most Teen Dramas limit the role of the Indian kid as the “dork”. Devi is given layers, she is not an ideal protagonist either, throughout the show she makes plenty of mistakes but that only make her more interesting as a character. But the biggest problem she has to face in the series is probably carrying the Indian baggage. Her ideal constantly clash with her mother, which is the primary conflict in the series. Her mother is very conservative and traditionally Indian, and panic at even the mention of a boyfriend. She doesn’t believe in therapy, American school system, privacy, having fun, talking back to elders or basically anything that is considered “useless” or “wrong” in India. Don’t get me wrong, she is no way a villain in the story, she does all of because she wants to protect her but like most Indian she doesn’t get that too much of anything is not good. I don’t want to tell you anything about the relationship between Devi and her mother, but it you defintely connect with the struggles of growing up Desi that she feels.
The show is really funny when it wants to too, most of the jokes land well. The writing is top notch and will definitely keep you hooked for the whole 10 episodes. It is also very quick and crisp with several great sub plots, and will be over before you know it. All the characters are given their own story lines and they land in most cases. Devi’s two best friends with seemingly one-note personality (the African-Latino robotic nerd and the east Asian drama queen) at first too get their own conflicts as the series conflicts as one of them realizes she’s gay and the other has mommy issues. The sub-plot concerning Devi’s cousin Kamala, also acts as a great commentary on the role of women in Indian households and the practice of arranged marriage.. Also some characters who are projected in the negative light in first half come around at the end and you realize why they are the way. Especialy Praxton, the guy Devi’s after, is probably the most human hot jock character in recent memory in a Netflix teen drama.
The only negative I have for this show is the overuse of voice-overs, which though funny at first, gets old very fast. Also the show has major problem with showing vs telling. Most of the big emotional plot points int story are told to you in a very short which makes it really hard to connect with. Like for example, in the last two episodes something which is meant to be this huge emotional tearjerker, but since it was developed well you just end up feeling a little shallow. But hey, if have a soft heart it will probably make you cry anyways.
Barring that one negative, this is really solid show. The episodes are well produced and tight and the star making performance from Maitreyi Ramakrishnan is a must watch (she is so likable and cute). The whole series is available to stream on Netflix right now, so just make some free time and watch this amazing show!