Never Have I Ever is an incredibly charming, energetic, funny, and heartfelt comedy led by vibrant newcomer Maitreyi Ramakrishnan. The series comes from the mind of Mindy Kaling, and from the jump, you can tell.
Devi Vishwakumar is in many respects a mini Mindy Kaling, specifically her fictional alter ego, Mindy Lahiri from her Fox comedy The Mindy Project. As soon as that image is solidified in your mind this comedy becomes crystal clear. From the writing to the ensemble dynamics, this comedy is very much a culmination of Mindy Kaling’s work and comedic sensibilities but in high school packaging.
Devi is your average American teenage girl. She is the daughter of Indian immigrants and was born and raised in the Valley. She is a bright and vibrant teen who is academically ambitious and boy crazed. After a difficult freshman year, Devi becomes desperate to reinvent herself by getting a boyfriend (even if he is dumb) and become popular during her sophomore year. Alongside her are her two best friends, tech-wiz Fabiola (Lee Rodriguez) and aspiring actress Eleanor (Ramona Young), who both exude their own vibrant eccentricities. Fleshing out the main high school ensemble are Devi’s academic nemesis Ben (Jaren Lewison) and her romantic interest Paxton (Darren Barnet). Also, the show is narrated by John McEnroe— don’t worry it serves a purpose.
The show seamlessly weaves Devi’s high school shenanigans with a grounded home life with her mother (Poorna Jagannathan) and cousin (Richa Moorjani). Devi’s story balances the aspects you expect to see in a high school comedy about a nerdy social climber, and the culture clashes that occur due to her being a first-generation American. Devi’s home life is exaggerated for comedic effect, but it is refreshingly nuanced and based in a familiar reality. Never Have I Ever takes every situation that could have been rooted in harmful stereotypes and flips it on its head, presenting a more recognisable and relatable reality.
As this is a comedic series it is important for the comedy to be on-point, and luckily for this show, it is. Never Have I Ever really commits to its comedy, leaning into jokes that may otherwise be incredibly awkward and insensitive in the hands of other writers. There is no better way to describe it other than it is very much on-brand writing from producer Mindy Kaling. There is a knowing tongue in cheek manner that suggests it knows that certain things that Devi and the characters around her say and do can only be said and done by them. The other strength of the series is our lead, who shines bright as both a comedy-gifted actress and dramatic lead.
Much like Mindy Lahiri, Devi is a wildly difficult person, and the show is not afraid to shine a light on her many flaws. She is on the precipice of narcissism, but the show never goes beyond Devi being a self-indulgent teenager. Episode 1 provides the necessary framework that lays the foundation for what Devi is over-compensating for. This has her act out in ways that hurt herself and the people around her. But since this is a comedy the show does give her a tonne of grace and leeway. Ramakrishnan does an excellent job showing us Devi’s flaws and yet allows us to see and understand the aspects of her that make her a sympathetic protagonist.
Overall, the show is well-balanced and exciting. The show takes no time at all to settle into this world and understanding Devi as a character. The ensemble around her is delightful, with their individual quirks and personas shining bright thanks to their charismatic actors. The comedy is light and breezy with a healthy dose of drama to keep you on your toes. Never Have I Ever has a winning combination of a talented ensemble, smart writing, and a clear vision. Netflix has certainly cornered the teen drama market well and has added yet another excellent series to its roster, hopefully, a second season is announced very soon.
Never Have I Ever will be available to stream on Netflix from April 27th
by Ferdosa Abdi