*Spoiler Alert: The following review contains mild spoilers for Never Have I Ever.*
Ever since the first season of Never Have I Ever first dropped on Netflix in April of 2020, it’s been a smash hit with both teens and adults alike. Created by Mindy Kaling, a well-established name in the TV and comedy world, the series has received highly positive reviews and nationwide popularity due to its originality, humor, sentimentality, and diversity. It was quickly renewed for a second season in July of 2020, showing that for once, Netflix won’t be dumping one of its best original shows.
Never Have I Ever follows the life of Devi Vishwakumar (portrayed by newcomer Maitreyi Ramakrishnan), a teenage Indian-American girl living in Los Angeles. Being a freshman in high school is hard enough, but the series starts off with Devi’s father tragically passing away. Devi’s legs become paralyzed as a result of her stress and trauma, making her freshman year an absolute nightmare.
After regaining the use of her legs, Devi is determined to have a better experience during her sophomore year. Accompanied by her best friends, Eleanor and Fabiola, her main goal (aside from excelling in her academics) is improving their social life and, more importantly, finding herself a boyfriend. Enter Paxton Hall-Yoshida, the captain of the swim team and the most attractive guy at Devi’s high school. As Devi’s romantic pursuit of him unfolds over the course of the first season’s ten episodes, everything from school to social lives to relationships goes sideways. Season 1 concluded with the unexpected start of a love triangle, leaving audiences wondering what would happen in the following season.
Despite the tradition of second seasons not being as good as the first, I’m happy to say that Season 2 was on an equal level of witty entertainment and also had a properly developed plot. With professional tennis player John McEnroe whimsically narrating Devi’s life in the background, Season 2 delivered on the same promises that were fulfilled in Season 1—this may be a teen comedy-drama show about high school life, but it is far from being one-dimensional or dull. I’ve talked several times before about how this particular genre of high school comedy can be boring (and sometimes borderline unwatchable), but Never Have I Ever will keep you coming back for more.
In my opinion, the biggest factor that sets Never Have I Ever apart from the rest is its amazing and well-thought out character development, and the inclusion of supporting characters that are of equal importance as the main ones. Devi is a refreshing take on the “Indian-American protagonist” character, deviating from problematic stereotypes and creating her own kind of unique persona. Actress Ramakrishnan may still be a novice in the film industry, but her breakout role as Devi is truly something to admire. While Devi might not necessarily make the best choices throughout the series, she is charming, funny, likeable, and relatable in ways that other high school shows aren’t (see: Riverdale, Euphoria, etc.).
Although Devi’s romantic interests are a primary driving force for the series, the plot doesn’t merely focus on this one aspect; there are several other themes that add richness to the overall story. Another important feature of Devi’s character is her grief over the death of her father. In each episode, the writers carefully integrated this subject matter into Devi’s growth as a person, from lashing out and going to therapy, to learning how to deal with her emotions in a more mature way. The loss of Devi’s father is also very prevalent in the storyline for Devi’s mother, Nalini, and the writers did an excellent job of showing how this tragic event affects their mother-daughter relationship, and how they manage their heartache together.
The supporting characters also deserve praise for standing out on their own, instead of being shoved in the background as useless, only-appear-when-convenient side characters. Nalini is one of my favorites; instead of showing Devi’s one-sided arguments with her mother, we also get to see how Nalini mourns the loss of her husband in her own way, and how she manages being a single mother to her oftentimes unpredictable daughter. Devi’s friends also shine in their own personal ways: the bubbly and dramatic Eleanor has to deal with her mother abandoning her, while the socially awkward and intelligent Fabiola struggles with coming out as gay. While these conflicts are important plotlines for each character, they also have their own distinct personalities, and are just as likeable as Devi. The changes that occur in their friendship over time also serve as a realistic and humorous part of the series.
One specific character that I really admire is Paxton. While most “hot and popular boy” characters are usually just portrayed as dumb jocks with no real personality, Paxton is actually fleshed out as a character and humanized beyond just being a stereotype. While there’s no denying that he is indeed attractive and popular, the series also gives us an inside look into his personal life. Paxton is Japanese-American, an identity that plays a large role in Season 2 and further develops his character. We also get to see his family life, and the conflict he has about being athletic, but not being good at school. The series should be applauded for giving every character an important role in the overall story, instead of only focusing on the protagonists.
I will acknowledge that this show isn’t for everyone. Even though the series offers a fresh and entertaining take on the high school comedy genre, its sense of humour won’t resonate with every viewer. Some might think that the plot is too childish or that the jokes are too cringey, especially for college-age and above audiences. Despite this reasonable criticism, I would still recommend this series to anyone who wants to watch a comedy about high schoolers that isn’t garbage (i.e. Riverdale). Never Have I Ever is very funny, but also includes heavy emotional elements, and there’s always something crazy going on that keeps the plot interesting. After binging Season 2, I will be eagerly awaiting the (hopefully inevitable) Season 3 renewal announcement.