Netflix’s teen dramedy addresses grief, culture shock and hormones with tenderness and empathy.
It’s time once again to return to Sherman Oaks High as Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher’s bittersweet teen comedy Never Have I Ever returns to Netflix. Picking up right where season one left off, we reunite with Devi Vishwakumar (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan), her friends, family, and the surprisingly rich cast of secondary characters.
What’s so beautiful about Never Have I Ever is how it digs into the long-term effects of trauma and grief. Devi is very much still processing the death of her father Mohan (Sendhil Ramamurthy) at a time in life when teenage hormones are putting most kids through emotional hell. While Devi still attends her therapy sessions with Doctor Ryan (Niecy Nash), her anger and helplessness drive Devi to self-destruction, making it difficult to sympathize with her at times.
Facing the likelihood of moving permanently to India with her mother Nalini (Poorna Jagannathan), Devi craves the experience of having a high school boyfriend despite being torn between rival Ben Gross (Jaren Lewison) and long-term crush Paxton (Darren Barnet). Devi isn’t just leaving her American life behind—she’s throwing sticks of dynamite on it and running away.
And while her actions are selfish and sometimes thoughtlessly cruel, Devi is, at her core, a young woman doing her best to navigate a difficult time (high school) while being in incredible pain. Her best friends Fabiola (Lee Rodriguez) and Eleanor (Ramona Young) have their ups and downs, mainly because they are the only people in Devi’s life who can genuinely check her when she’s gone too far. Her initial one-sided rivalry with new student Aneesa (the only other Indian girl at Sherman Oaks) adds a sweet, much-needed cultural touchstone to Devi’s life. When things between them take a dramatic turn, you can feel the space that connection has left behind.
So much of Never Have I Ever revolves around the changing values between immigrant generations, both between Devi and Nalini, and Nalini and her mother-in-law, or cousin Kamala (Richa Shukla), who represents a mix of traditional and modern cultural values. Kamala’s need to be taken seriously on her new academic rotation put her at odds with suitor Prashant (Rushi Kota) who discourages her from making any waves despite the overt sexism of her work environment.
Trying to hold the family (and herself) together, Nalini, too, has her issues to reckon with in season two. Without Mohan, Nalini finds the profoundly human need for connection with an equal. It seems as if rival dermatologist Dr. Jackson (Common) might be a possibility, but are Nalini and Devi ready to let go of Mohan yet? Mohan’s shadow looms large across the season, serving as Devi’s moral compass for much of the season to the point that it leads to a beautifully cathartic confrontation between mother and daughter.
There’s a lot to love about Never Have I Ever, the cast, the writing, but mostly the intelligent way it deals with the emotional turbulence of being a teen while never being preachy or talking down to its audience. It’s still a fresh, clever take on the high school dramedy and will leave you hitting the ‘next episode’ button every time.
Season 2 of Never Have I Ever drops on July 15 on Netflix.