By Mollie Campbell
Genre: Drama, Comedy, Coming-of-age
Created by: Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher
Cast: Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Darren Barnet, Ramona Young, Lee Rodriguez
Never Have I Ever is a fresh new drama disguised as a comedy, it is funny, relatable and plunges far deeper into the pool of serious topics than I ever would have expected.
The show begins with Devi Vishwakumar, an Indian-American sophomore student whose father recently died, resulting in temporary paralysis which put her in a wheelchair. The first episode marks her return to school for the first time without her wheelchair and her mission to change her life in order to make her and her friends, Eleanor and Fabiola, rise to the top of the school’s social hierarchy. The show doesn’t hold back on its content, as straight away we see Devi trying to secure boyfriends for the trio, in order for her to take the next step sexually. By openly discussing these topics in the show from the word go, it instantly sets a realistic yet sensible tone to the whole series.
It instantly expresses real thoughts and feelings that teens are facing in the 21st century, and portray the situations and scenarios that they go through. And instead of this resulting in a negative impact for young people watching in terms of teen pressure, it actually creates a safe space for kids to think about the things that these characters are going through, allowing them to relate to these situations and encouraging them to openly discuss these things with their friends and parents. As the show progresses, Devi gets into a rabbit hole of a situation by asking Paxton (a.k.a the hottest guy in school), to have sex with her. This doesn’t end up happening but she lets her friends and her peers think it is true in order to become ‘popular’. This is also shining a spotlight on the consequences of teen pressure and how things can become twisted, and whilst it doesn’t praise Devi for her poor choices, in fact, the whole storyline is sort of a guide on what not to do in High School; it also continues to make you see things from her perspective.
Moreover, as this storyline is happening, Devi is seeing a therapist who is trying to help her delve deeper into her feelings about her father’s death. This is also handled well because it shows that just because someone may not want to open up about their grief with a therapist; it still impacts their life on a daily basis. Despite all of the other things that are going on in Devi’s life, a lot of these scenarios lead back to a memory of her father. The show covers a lot of ground, just in little 22-30 minute episodes. It tackles some pretty hefty and serious issues, all whilst maintaining its image as a comedy, the writing continues to be witty and hilarious, often just moments after very insightful and impactful scenes. The writers manage to weave many different topics in out of the shows core so effortlessly, it all flows impeccably. There is one scene in which Devi goes out to the garden’s vegetable patch, she is feeling ok when all of a sudden she gets this intense memory of her father growing tomatoes in the exact same place where she is standing, she drops the tools and runs back into the house. To me, this perfectly sums up the strange waters of grief; the tide can change in mere moments. Often, it’s not always the big stuff that triggers you, but simple little memories that have the power to make you randomly cry your eyes out.
Another scene is when Devi is sitting on a school bus and sees an ambulance shoot past her; this instantly takes her back to the night of her father’s heart attack, showing just how many painful reminders there are after you have lost someone. As Devi gets dragged deeper into her white lie, her friends are left behind to face their own issues that she is completely oblivious to. Through all this, we learn more about Eleanor and Fabiola. Eleanor, an aspiring actress, has recently learned that her mother (who left her to pursue a career in acting as a child), has been living 20 minutes away from her for the past two months. We watch her storyline as she finds her mother, lets her back into her life, and is disappointed once more when she leaves her again. Meanwhile, Fabiola has realised that she is gay, she comes out to Eleanor and attempts to do the same with Devi, but she assures them that the ‘shit’ she is going through is bigger than theirs. This causes a complete shift in the dynamic of the friendship group, as Devi’s pain and grief is causing her to treat her friends horribly. Grief makes you kind of selfish, so wrapped up in your own pain that you forget about the ones around you, and some people cannot tolerate it forever.
This represents the messy factors of grief and also portrays a difficult family situation with Eleanor and a well-handled coming out storyline for Fabiola. And somehow, even within this entire messy situation, the show still manages to portray issues from other minor characters like Devi’s cousin, who is set for an arranged marriage, and her mother who is struggling without her husband and is finding her identity lost in a place she wasn’t born in. The writers really give insight into Indian culture, and how it integrates into American society (and the many ways in which it doesn’t), whilst still maintaining respect for both cultures. Eventually, Devi realises the mistakes she has made and patches things up with her friends, and finally, the true extent to her grief unfolds.
In the closing scenes of season 1, Devi, her mother and cousin, scatter her father’s ashes into the ocean in Malibu, this really got to me in an unexpected way. The only issue I have is the implication that the grief goes away due to scattering the ashes. Maybe that happens for some people, but when I scattered my father’s ashes, it was therapeutic, but it definitely did not banish my grief forever. If anything, it got worse as the façade of the initial, intense grief went away, the cloud of shock dissipates, leaving the earth shattering realisation that he was gone forever, and the lifelong grief that came with it. I am very interested to see how they handle season 2, if it is renewed. I sincerely hope Netflix decides to continue this show, I am struggling to find any faults, and the only negatives I took away were completely minor things not even worth mentioning. I am incredibly impressed with this show and thoroughly enjoyed its characters, storylines, relatability and diverse representation, highly recommended!