by Staff Writer Megh Basu
Staying true to its name, Never Have I Ever, Netflix’s new coming-of-age series, is wild, adventurous, and a little bit out of control. Co-created by Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher, the show, one of the first to have a desi main character, boasts a diverse cast and noteworthy storylines, although it falls short when it comes to the dialogue and pacing.
The series revolves around Devi Vishwakumar, a high school sophomore grappling with the untimely death of her father the year prior and the subsequent loss of mobility in her legs. Entering her sophomore year, she embarks on a mission to get a boyfriend to elevate her popularity at school.
Devi Vishwakumar (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan), the show’s protagonist.
Devi is an imperfect character — she can be impulsive, hotheaded, and sometimes outright unlikeable, which makes her all the more realistic. While Devi’s character feels very Westernized, she accurately embodies the cultural detachment that can come with being a first-generation child of immigrants. Not only that, it is refreshing to see a desi girl in a sex-positive way, as she embraces young love rather than playing into the trope that Indians are unattractive and awkward when it comes to romance that plagues shows like The Big Bang Theory.
The character of Devi largely owes her charm to the talented lead, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, who plays Devi in her first onscreen role. After Kaling sent out an open casting call on social media, Ramakrishnan was chosen out of over 15,000 submissions.
Her acting chops are apparent as she effortlessly portrays the emotional, vulnerable moments of a teenager dealing with grief. Not only that, her comedic timing is impeccable — you can hardly tell she is a newcomer in her first professional role.
Ramakrishnan’s skill as an actress is only elevated by her standout costars. While every character has their unique and impactful storyline, Devi’s most important relationship is with her mom, Nalini (Poorna Jagannathan). The mother-daughter relationship is poignant and relatable due to Ramakrishan and Jagannathan’s chemistry.
Devi and her mother, Nalini, at a family dinner.
Despite Nalini’s emotional disconnection from her daughter, Jagannathan humanizes Nalini by showing how she struggles with raising Devi alone in the aftermath of her husband’s death. In every episode, we see the push and pull of their turbulent relationship, which makes for many heartfelt mother-daughter scenes. The characterization of every person in this predominantly minority cast is remarkable, as Kaling gives each of them unique storylines and three-dimensional character arcs.
Devi and her friends, Eleanor Wong (Ramona Young) and Fabiola Torres (Lee Rodriguez).
While the cast’s portrayal of the characters is a highlight of the show, the comedy is not — the jokes often fall flat and the dialogue seems wooden. In addition, the show doesn’t find a good pace until the latter half, when Devi finally has to come to terms with her unresolved trauma.
However, despite its struggles in maintaining a lively flow during slower moments, the show thrives in more dramatic scenes, such as flashbacks of Devi’s father or arguments with her mother, which are especially touching. Despite failing to deliver on the comedy that Kaling’s shows are usually filled with, the show’s poignant dialogue and superb performances make up for it by portraying a relatable story of Devi’s journey grieving her dad’s death alongside her struggle with her culture.
Grief is one of the central themes explored in Never Have I Ever.
Despite the subpar comedy and missteps in the first half of the season, Never Have I Ever is a charming, relatable series that confronts heavy topics in a wholesome, heartwarming way. An incredible comedy that is relatable and realistic as one of the first portrayals of an Indian-American family on TV, the show is a must-watch that leaves high hopes for a second season.
Images by Netflix