Here is our review for the second season of Never Have I Ever, now streaming on Netflix.
In the proud tradition of John Hughes films about pouty, brooding teenagers, Never Have I Ever attempts to redefine the genre with a diverse multi-ethnic spin.
The series is centered around Devi Vishwakumar (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan), an Indian-American girl working through severe, and jarring trauma at having to witness her father’s untimely death during one of her school concerts. Shortly thereafter, she mysteriously loses the use of her legs and spent the better part of her first year in high school confined to a wheelchair. Together with her mother Nalini (Poorna Jagannathan) and her cousin Kamala (Richa Shukla Moorjani) they navigate through life without her father, each coping differently from the other.
Right before the start of her sophomore year, she regains the use of her legs, and is desperate to build a new personality, sans wheelchair, and by extension – her old reputation as “that Indian girl who’s in a wheelchair”. Devi single-mindedly embarks on a “rebranding” campaign together with her friends Fabiola (Lee Rodriguez) and Eleanor (Ramona Young), and what follows is a meandering journey through the highs and lows of teenage dating and friendships with her nemesis Ben (Jaren Lewison), and her erstwhile crush, Paxton (Darren Barnet).
Season two picks up immediately after Devi, her mother, and her cousin scatter the ashes of her father in the ocean. Devi is in a better place, and have made peace with the fact that they are going to have to relocate back to India, the reason being Nalini believes that she can benefit from having some form of social support from her family, and that Devi, who has become increasingly belligerent throughout the first season, can benefit from some socially-imposed measure of discipline.
Devi, resigned to her ultimate fate, decides to maximize what little time she has left in the country, and starts a chain of events that form some of the more major character arcs for the season. Her friends also get romantic upgrades of their own, with Fabiola choosing to embrace her sexuality and carry on a relationship with Eve (Christina Kartchner), who honestly steals any scene she’s in with her cheekbones alone, and Eleanor enters into a relationship with former child star Malcom (Tyler Alvarez).
Created by Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher, it’s unmistakably respectful of South Asian culture, and all the other cultures it has revolving around in its periphery, and it expresses this in a way that is neither pandering nor insincere. It deals with sensitive issues with a deft hand, and in no way are the characters defined by their race or sexual orientation, but rather by their shared awkwardness, because let’s face it: EVERYBODY was awkward during that time of our lives.
Never Have I Ever is on its face, a fun coming-of-age story, but underneath its John Hughes patina, it’s a show about choices: what leads us to them, how we make them, and what we suffer as consequences. Devi is extremely unlikeable: her choices are made primarily on impulse, with little to no regard for consequences on herself and others. She powers through the complicated relationships around her with the same grace and tact as Alexander the Great hacking through the Gordian knot. She also has a kind of explosive temper that destroys everything within a fifteen-block radius.
But while the character seems to be self-destructive in many ways, it also shows a kind of raw vulnerability: her choices are colored by a deep psychological wound that refuses to heal. The show is very good in taking us through this kind of forensic study into trauma and how it affects the way we live, one layer at a time. Never Have I Ever is one of those shows that actually aged well over time, as more and more is revealed about its characters, we recognize their struggles and build empathy for them. In this, its second season did not disappoint.