Netflix is practically overflowing with American teenage drama sitcoms where a young teen is in the throes of dealing with academic pressure, relationships, the idea of virginity (and losing it), while steering some heated conflicts with parents. So, when another coming-of-of-age dramedy, Never Have I Ever, hit the platform, we weren’t expecting a nuanced, endearing, warm, witty, and above all relatable take on teen life, but then it comes from the Mindy Kaling, so being excellent was pretty much written in stone.
While Mindy Kaling does share the credit with co-creator Lang Fisher, Never Have I Ever has the comedian-actress’ vibe written all over it. Kaling has already shown how she can breathe uniqueness in already existing stories (“The Mindy Project”, “Four Weddings and a Funeral”), ripe with stereotypes, and reach a level of excellence a genre was never expected to reach.
Same is the case with Never Have I Ever, which opted for refreshing the existing tropes surrounding teen life and amped it up with solid acting and a smart script. And in places, when it does conform to preexisting notions, like Indian immigrant stereotypes of the parents being controlling, their nerdy kids who have awkwardness written over them when it comes to sexual or social interaction, the intention is to spark humor, not to adhere to the cliche of mocking it to death.
So, Never Have I Ever begins with 15-year-old Devi, an American girl of Indian origin, played by newcomer Maitreyi Ramakrishnan praying to various portraits of Hindu Gods for popularity in school, for her body to mature quickly so she can look desirable, and eventually nab a hot boyfriend to “rock her world”.
Devi missed out on a chunk of her freshman year after her father, Mohan (Sendhil Ramamurthy) unexpectedly died at the school concert she was performing in, the trauma of which rendered Devi immobile and restricted to a wheelchair for 3 months.
And yes, like every teen (and adult) who loves stuffing their issues behind a closet, Devi also shelves her grief and concentrates on adjusting and attaining popularity in her sophomore year at her American school, dealing with her body image issues, friendships, and whatnot. And oh, her raging lust for Paxton, a Japanese-American swimmer with a ripped bod, who is thankfully not just eye candy and has a character arc of his own.
Meanwhile, she is also left navigating her life around her impossibly protective mother, dermatologist Nalini (Poorna Jagannathan), who is having struggles of her own as she tries to adapt to single parenting while dealing with a rebellious teen.
Devi’s two besties, Fab (Lee Rodriguez) and Eleanor (Ramona Young) are assigned their own interests and problems and so is her Indian cousin Kamala (Richa Moorjani). They are not merely there as stick figures dancing around the protagonist but key characters unraveling their own stigma and stereotypes around elements like sexual identity and women empowerment.
So, whether you pick the fact that from debutant Maitreyi Ramakrishnan more than proves her mettle or that the three-time Wimbledon tennis champion, John McEnroe narrates her character’s journey with spot-on self-deprecating humor, or that even the supporting cast has meaty roles they fully immerse themselves into, Mindy Kaling’s Never Have I Ever never has a dull moment.