Never Have I Ever

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Cast

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Reviewer

Emily Clark

TV Series Review

In the words of Devi Vishwakumar, a 15-year-old Indian-American girl growing up in the San Fernando Valley, “Last year sucked.” First off, her dad died suddenly—and at a school function, no less—making her the pity of all her classmates. Then, consumed by her grief, she experienced psychosomatic paralysis and wound up in a wheelchair for several months.

By some odd luck (and her desire to get a better look at a cute boy), Devi managed to regain the use of her limbs. But now that she’s able to walk (literally) into her sophomore year of high school, she has a few requests for the Hindu gods her family prays to.

First off, she wants to be invited to a party with hard drugs and alcohol. Not that she wants to partake in them, mind you. She’d just like the option to say, “No cocaine for me, thanks. I’m good.”

Secondly, it’d be really nice if her arm hair could thin out.

But even more importantly than any of that, she really, really wants a boyfriend. To be even more specific, Devi wants to have sex with Paxton Yoshida-Hall, the hottest guy at Sherman Oaks High.

Never Have I Ever…Had John McEnroe Narrate My Life

Unfortunately for Devi, prayers to the Hindu gods might not be enough to get the 15-year-old what she wants. She and her two best friends, Fabiola and Eleanor, are total nerds. Quite frankly, Devi doesn’t have the social standing to score one of the most popular guys in school. So, she sets in motion a plan to get status-boosting boyfriends—not only for herself, but for her friends, as well.

It isn’t exactly shocking when that plan goes awry. Fabiola comes out as gay and Eleanor admits that she already has a secret boyfriend. But Devi is determined. After all, Paxton’s face is the reason she was able to overcome her paralysis.

But Devi’s boy-crazy phase hides something else—even, in a way, from Devi: Her grief over her dad’s death. Devi might have overcome the physical obstacles that resulted from his sudden passing, but she’s far from overcoming the emotional ones.

Her therapist recognizes this and tries to steer Devi in the right direction, but every time it seems like Devi might be getting close to a breakthrough, she either starts harping on her mom’s overbearing and uncaring attitude, complaining about how perfect her cousin Kamala is or ranting about how much she hates Ben Gross, her arch-nemesis and competitor for smartest kid in school.

As the show’s narrator, tennis great John McEnroe (and Devi’s dad’s hero) says, it’s unlikely that Devi will ever shed her old identity as “the paralyzed Indian girl whose dad dropped dead at a school function.” However, that doesn’t mean she won’t find a way to heal from her dad’s death and grow closer to the family she still has left.

“Girl, Bye.”

Mindy Kaling (of The Mindy Project and The Office) co-created this coming-of-age comedy inspired by her own childhood. But for a show about a young girl embracing her family’s heritage and coming to terms with her grief, it’s unnecessarily rife with issues.

For starters, Devi and her classmates are obsessed with sex. Now, thankfully, nothing ever progresses past kissing on screen, at least in its first season. In an interview with TVLine.com, Kaling said this was because she wanted to use actors who were believable as the age they were portraying (i.e. not adults). “We literally have a scene where they’re reading up about sex and sex positions and Kegels and stuff, [but] they’re never in a situation where they can ever use it,” she said.

And she’s not wrong. Characters talk about sex, they kiss, and a few teen boys take their shirts off, but it’s nothing compared to say, The CW’s Riverdale. But these conversations are still super icky. At one point, Devi essentially asks her therapist if she’s “bangable,” and the older woman refuses to answer, pointing out that “it’s creepy.”

Language is another issue. Devi in particular has a habit of misusing Christ’s name and pairing “dammit” with God’s name. But there are also frequent uses of the f- and s-words. We hear a few sexist and racist jokes, too. And while these jokes are meant to be more ironic than offensive considering the ethnic diversity of the cast, they could stir up some negative feelings.

Finally, Devi can be obnoxiously selfish. Throughout much of the show, she remains woefully ignorant of pretty much everyone else’s problems—such as the fact that her mom is struggling with grief just as much as Devi is and that Ben acts like a little jerk because his parents neglect him. She is increasingly rude to her mom for being overprotective and she repeatedly hurts her friends by placing her own wants and desires above their needs. And even though the show doesn’t excuse Devi’s selfishness, it’s still there.

Those things are pretty unforgettable. And it takes Devi an annoying amount of time to learn from her mistakes. But once she does, the show’s deeper message about learning how to handle grief and figuring out what healthy relationships look like shines through.

Episode Reviews

April 27, 2020: “…said I’m sorry”

After her mom announces that she plans to move the family back to India, Devi runs away from home and nearly misses the chance to spread her dad’s ashes with the rest of the family.

A woman chants in Sanskrit while spreading her husband’s ashes while two other women clasp their hands in prayer to their Hindu gods.

A teenage couple kisses. In a flashback, Devi’s dad wraps his arms around her mom and spins her around in circles. Two teenage couples (one a same-sex pairing) are referred to as “lovers.” A teenager says his family’s former foreign exchange student robbed them and attempted to seduce his mom. (We see a picture with the exchange student’s arms wrapped around the older woman). A teenager hits on an adult woman. A woman’s midriff is partially exposed.

We hear about a booze cruise with topless women. Someone makes a joke about child actor using meth. Ben tries to kiss Devi but when she stops him short, he blames his behavior on alcohol.

During an argument, Devi tells her mom that she wishes her mom had died instead of her dad. She later rejects her mom’s attempts to reconcile, accusing her of manipulation and insincerity. A Realtor upsets Devi’s mom when she doesn’t realize that Devi’s dad passed away. Devi has a flashback of ambulances from the night her dad died. A teenager drives a car without a license.

The f-word and s-word are both heard, as well as “h—,” “d—it,” “frickin’,” “suck” and several misuses of God’s and Jesus’ names. A girl with Down syndrome calls her brother a “douche” after realizing that he mistreated a girl for the sake of his own popularity. Devi’s mom makes a few untoward remarks about people of other races.

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Emily Clark
Emily Clark

Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and indulging in her “nerdom,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything she loves, such as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.

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