Created by Mindy Kaling, Never Have I Ever is deeply honest in its writing, and series lead Maitreyi Ramakrishnan is incredibly endearing.
Starring Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Richa Moorjani, Jaren Lewinson, Darren Barnet, John McEnroe, and Poorna Jagannathan
15-year-old Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) seeks a rebrand, as she moves into her sophomore year at high school. In what she describes as “last year sucked for a number of reasons”, Devi is reeling from the recent, unexpected loss of her father, and confidante, to a heart attack during her orchestra concert, and as a result of the shock became paralysed for many months, only recovering at the sight of her crush Paxton (Darren Barnet). While all of this is explained within the show’s opening minutes in what must be the most bizarre introduction to a character ever, this plotline is explored far beyond just an opening-episode bit, and is the source of many of the series standout moments.
Devi, therefore, seeks to increase her status by becoming cool, hot and getting a boyfriend – someone who is, in her words, “a stone-cold hottie who could rock me all night long”. All of this delivered, with impressive candor, to the Hindu shrine in her bedroom. This wacky, off-the-wall tone is only helped by the bizarre use of John McEnroe, for reasons that become, surprisingly, clear in a disarmingly sweet revelation.
Devi is surrounded in her life by overbearing mother Nalini (Poorna Jagannathan), her hot, accomplished cousin, who embraces her Indian and Hindu roots where Devi shuns them, Kamala (Richa Moorjani), and her two closest friends: drama geek Eleanor (Ramona Young) and robotic genius Fabiola (Lee Rodriguez), not to mention her equally intelligent nemesis Ben (Jaren Lewinson) and aforementioned crush Paxton.
At the start of the series, the supporting cast are painted incredibly thinly, fitting into neat tropes. When we are first introduced to them, Kamala is defined by her looks, and Nalini seems nothing other than an insufferable nag. Eleanor and Fabiola do little to escape their established niche, and Ben seems to be mean just for the sake of it, while the narrative predominantly focusses upon Devi and her barely suppressed grief. The show really takes more shape once these characters are more substantially developed and allowed to grow beyond these labels, filling the series with far more emotion and depth.
Devi is an incredibly winning protagonist, despite her evident flaws. Her way of viewing the world is refreshing and delightful, and it’s fun to see such a whacky, odd ball character, who talks to gods like friends and is both unexpectedly candid and awkward. On top of that external bluff, the visual representation of her habit for diverting herself away from her true emotional pain, is her presence as an Indian-American character, who struggles within the series as reconciling being a modern teenager and being a proud Hindu which, while surely not being a situation that all audience members will have experienced, is still massively relatable as growing into one’s own identity, religious or not. Ramakrishnan is so winsome in the role, and hugely endearing, that it’s difficult to feel contempt for Devi, even when she is at her lowest point morally. Able to deliver on both the humour and the emotional heavylifting, she has proved herself wonderfully capable at holding this entire series together.
The show remains delightful throughout, but it’s really through its powerful exploration of a young girl’s grief that it really starts to set itself apart from the rest of the crowd. Full of likeable and sympathetic characters, the entire show is filled with emotion and hilarity. From start to finish: a delectable treat.
Never Have I Ever is streaming now on Netflix.