Devi Vishwakarma (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) is a typical teenager attending Sherman Oaks High School in California. She’s determined to make the most of her sophomore year and climb the popularity ladder at school.
This Devi is dying to be a goddess
Devi Vishwakarma is a sassy and spirited teenager who has no trouble mouthing off to her mother Nalini (Poorna Jagannathan), high school nemesis Ben Gross (Jarren Lewison) and therapist, Dr Jamie Ryan (Niecy Nash). She’s recovering from a traumatic year in which she lost her father followed by a spell of paralysis that took away her ability to walk. Devi and her best friends Fabiola (Lee Rodriguez) and Eleanor (Ramona Young) are nicknamed UN by her peers. She’s disheartened to find out that it isn’t a commentary on their diverse nationalities (Fabiola is Latina, Eleanor is Asian), but stands for ‘Unfuckable Nerds’. Devi then embarks on a mission to ensure they upgrade their school status. The best way to do that is by getting boyfriends. She sets her sights on longtime crush, Paxton Hall-Yoshida (Darren Barnet), the most popular boy in school.
Aside from school, Devi has to deal with her mother, a single parent. The two clash often in the absence of Devi’s father, Mohan (Sendhil Ramamurthy) who played peacemaker in the past. To add to Devi’s woes, her beautiful and perfect cousin Kamala (Richa Moorjani) lives with the Vishawakumars while completing her PhD at Caltech. Devi hates that her mother compares them constantly. While it sounds like there’s a lot going on, Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher, who double up as creators and writers have a taut grip on all the narratives. The show benefits from witty, sharp and relevant writing, elevating what could have been just another teen comedy to a nuanced, well-rounded and highly relatable one.
The show is a fine sketch of the Indian immigrant experience
Reportedly based on Kaling’s teenage experiences, Never Have I Ever is a sharp portrait of growing up as a first generation immigrant. One of Devi’s biggest conflicts is being perceived as too Indian (she’s a straight-A student who has her eyes set on an Ivy League university) by her American counterparts and not Indian enough by the Indian community. In an episode dedicated to Ganesh puja celebrations, Devi struggles to relate to her mother and cousin. At the said event, the family joins fellow Hindus who display a strong sense of identity, dancing to Bollywood songs, being Islamophobic and advocating the importance of arranged marriage within the community. Surprisingly though, Devi doesn’t have to deal with racist comments and behaviour from her peers at school. Most of the pressure to be a good Indian comes from her mother. Nalini pushes Devi to pray to Hindu gods, insists Kamala come across as a well-rounded woman who lives to serve her husband in order to attract a good arranged marriage prospect, is a staunch vegetarian who dislikes Devi’s preference for typical American fare over Indian food and feels therapy is only something for “white people”.
Never will you guess the show’s narrator
In recent times, Jane The Virgin masterfully employed the trope of having a narrator propel the story. Never Have I Ever takes a page out of its book and gets not one, but two highly unexpected narrators. Tennis legend John McEnroe as narrator is a masterstroke. There’s a good reason for this. His dry, wit-laced commentary perfectly complements Devi’s teenage shenanigans. In one of the episodes, McEnroe lobs the ball into the court of the other narrator, actor and comedian, Andy Samberg, who is equally delightful and droll.
Stand-out performances by the cast
This is Ramakrishnan’s debut performance, but you’d never guess. In her hands, Devi is wonderfully layered. The other actors also pitch in equally fantastic performances, turning in characters that are likeable and real. But the MVP of the show is Jagannathan, whose Nalini is a balance of vulnerable, hilarious and frazzled. Your heart reaches out to this newly widowed woman, who is not only grappling with her grief but also has to put on a stoic face for her daughter and niece. She’s a typical Indian mother who’s worried that her daughter isn’t as Indian as she’d like her to be. The actor sinks her claws into a well fleshed out character and steals every scene she’s in.
WATCH OR NOT
The show sucks you in from the get-go with its relatable characters, relevant and funny situations, and a stand-out performance by Poorna Jagannathan.
Creators: Mindy Kaling, Lang Fisher
Cast: Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Poorna Jagannathan, Richa Moorjani, Darren Barnet, Lee Rodriguez, Ramona Young, John McEnroe
Streaming on: Netflix