A teenage girl tries to make a transition into a woman – yes that sounds overdone but not when adding in a second-generation Indian-American teen as the main character.
The show is Never Have I Ever, created by Mindy Kaling, who was approached by Netflix to create a series about her young life. Does that mean Mindy was an awkward, band geek? If so, she’s giving us all hope. Kaling has mentioned watching tv shows growing up and feeling alienated because the characters led such different lives than her. She made this apparent in Never Have I Ever when connecting with Lang Fisher who had been a writer for The Mindy Show and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Together, Kaling and Fisher agreed to make the lead character as modern as can be.
Devi, played by the very talented and very Canadian, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, is a spontaneous, awkward band-geek, confused about what she’s supposed to represent. She looks Indian but is completely Americanized. Her family is of the Hindu religion and hold their roots close. Devi tries to as well; she prays to Vishnu as an attempt to get invited to high school parties, she does her best to abstain from eating meat but who can blame her? Baby back ribs are quite delicious. Throughout the first season, Devi experiences a painful loss; she battles emotions and mental health while trying to be a regular kid, and engages in weekly therapy appointments to grasp her feelings. This sets the tone for Never Have I Ever. The audience holds on to an idea of who Devi is just enough to understand her teenage issues, frustration, and sadness. Many young people are shame-filled by attending therapy at an early age; Never Have I Ever allows room for normalizing therapy. There’s a push-pull in Devi’s character; she tries her best to be who she’s expected to be although she feels like she isn’t supposed to belong anywhere.
In school Devi and her two best friends are known as the UN. Can you guess why? No, not because they discuss global issues in their free time; it’s because they are all a minority. Fabiola, one of Devi’s best friends, also comes to question who and what she is. The series shines also a light on sexuality and truly gives girls at any age a much-needed representation of how confusing or intimidating sexuality can be. From expressing the “real you” to your friends than to family, the full process of how Fab opens the door to self-comfortability is shown in such a transparent form.
What would any series be without a love interest? Devi rationalizes she must “pop her cherry” in order to be cool. What better way to do this than with the coolest guy in school? Paxton is a Japanese-American character with his own bundle of secrets, the cool guy with depth. Devi often wonders if she’s good enough for the cool guy. Oh, the teenage years.
Watching Never Have I Ever, I tracked back to my younger school days and think of the friends I’ve had who were all different races and ethnicities, never taking the time necessary to understand their cultures. When you’re young there’s a notion of “we’re not all that different” until society tells you otherwise. The same is represented in Never Have I Ever, and for the same reason as well – there’s a view of your friends being the exact same as you. Through the ten-episode journey, there are identity realizations, sexuality discoveries’, dating drama, abandonment issues and yes even death. This series normalizes many concepts that aren’t discussed in mainstream media typically. Devi has much to endure and overcome through each episode. Will Devi have the transition into womanhood she so desperately longs for?
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