Judge me all you want, but high school dramas have their own charm and I am happily enjoying it. Mindy Kaling presented Netflix’s new teen drama Never Have I Ever is a quirky story of a teenage girl navigating her life. But also has unnecessary stereotypes about India and Indians that didn’t go well with me at all and I am sure many of you would agree. (which I will talk about in detail, so don’t kill me right away, maybe I can give you more reasons to ahead).
Cast: Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Ramona Young, Lee Rodriguez, Darren Barnet, Jaren Lewison, John McEnroe, Poorna Jagannathan and, Richa Moorjani
Available On: Netflix
What’s Never Have I Ever About?:
15-year-old Devi Vishwakumar is a first-generation Indian American teenage girl (google what that is), brought up in California, where she is all set to hit the sophomore year. But Devi also has a dark recent past where she lost her father to a cardiac arrest and can’t wrap her head around his absence. The show follows her and talks about being a girl, the race to be cool, what it takes to be a girl of colour and so on.
We meet Devi played by a super confident for her debut Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, praying to a group of gods (her shrine is crowded). She prays for good marks, less hair on her arms and a hot boyfriend she can have the best make-out session with. This very first scene tells us how self-obsessed our protagonist is. That is Devi, a girl though marinating her grief also has 200 other things going on in her head, having sex being the priority.
So the show is just like Devi, impromptu. The skeleton is not in an algorithm with pre-decided steps and that brings freshness to it. When one of Devi’s friends tells her she is a combination of Priyanka Chopra’s “beauty” and Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s “incisive intelligence”, you get to know that being delusional is normal for her and makes sense in her world.
For the ones who have seen Mindy Kaling’s popular show The Mindy Project, know where Devi is coming from. In a parallel universe I can imagine Mindy and Devi being sisters.
Created by Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher the show stays true to its character. The writing never portrays that Devi’s problems are small because it is her mind you are living in right now. It’s her world narrated by one of the finest narrators out there, tennis player John McEnroe (I don’t want to spoil your fun by talking more about his narration) who is on Devi’s side. Even having a pimple on the left most corner of your forehead is a problem and a big one.
Not just Devi, Never Have I Ever is filled with characters who have flaws, whom we have known. Even the hottest teen swimmer of the college Paxton Hall-Yoshida (Darren Barnet) has a side of him which he hides. No one’s perfect, the show tells us in the most sitcom manner possible and isn’t that Mindy Kaling we all love.
Living up to to the title, Devi and her two friends Fabiola and Eleanor, all criticised for their roots, decide to tick off everything they have been having on their list. The show gives women of colour, sexual orientation and different mindset a voice. And all of this is digestible because nothing is being preached.
Acting performances are just right. Comic when need be serious when required. Devi’s mother played by Poorna Jagannathan was one performance that will stay with me for some time.
What Doesn’t Work?
Okay, so as much as I did like the characters and their development, I could not stand how blatantly and non relevantly stereotyping Indians is used as humour here. I know many would tell me to take it with a pinch of salt, and I would have if the show was set somewhere 10 years back. We are in the age of inclusiveness and knowing cultures where the misconceptions don’t exist as they did a decade ago.
For example, progressive Indians no more look for a bride who resembles their mothers. Bollywood (Oh, I so hate that word) movies are more than “it’s a film where princess falls in love with her sweeper and just 7 hours long”. Also, why will a mother herself a fashionista restrict her daughter to not wear sleeveless? Also haven’t we all come way ahead from the ‘India is only about festivals and snake charmers on streets’ conversation?
Maybe Mindy and Lang’s approach towards adding them was different, but if so, it didn’t translate like they wanted to.
Never Have I Ever Review: Last Word:
Watch it if you are a fan of high school dramas. 10 episodes with a runtime of 30 minutes each is a breezy watch. I know there is stereotyping, a d I am still against it, but that doesn’t take away the fact that the show has its soul in the right place.
Never Have I Ever Review: Star Rating: 3/5 stars (Three Stars)