Coming-of-age movies and televised series have been hitting our screens since the dawn of time (at least that’s what it feels like), and while most of us can think back to our favorites (mine being The Outsider’s book and movie) it’s hard not to notice that many are usually from a male’s perspective. Of course there’s been strides in the the film industry in the past few decades that focus on the perspective of women, but not many seem to stand out (to me, at least). But the other day, while doing my usual “what to watch on Netflix?”
I came across Never Have I Ever in Netflix’s top 10 list. As I watched the one minute trailer, I picked up on a few things. First, this is a romantic-comedy. Second, it’s focused on a woman’s perspective. Finally, it’s a loosely based portrayal of Mindy Kaling‘s (Mindy Project, The Office) life. When the trailer ended my curiosity was peaked, and with the desire to try something new, Never have I Ever made the view list.
Who Is Devi Vishwakumar?
In the season premier we meet Devi Vishwakumar (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan), a fifteen year old Indian-American girl, that strives for success in her academic career. Devi is a straight-A student that excels in her AP classes, she has a strong personality, she‘s an amazing harp musician, and she even has her own intellectual rivalry with a fellow classmate. However, Devi is still in the mourning her father’s untimely death at a school function, the loss of mobility in her legs (later to regain them before the new year), and the struggles of being true to her Indian heritage.
It’s during prayer that Devi indulges to the gods what she would want her sophomore year to look like.
“One: I’d like to be invited to a party with alcohol and hard drugs. I’m not gonna do them. I’d just like the opportunity to say: “No cocaine for me, thanks I’m good”Devi coolly declines drugs
“Two: I’d love for my arm hair to thin out. I know it’s an Indian thing, but my forearms look like the frigging floor of a barber shop.”Devi being a bit self conscious
“And lastly, most importantly, I’d really, really like a boyfriend, but not some nerd from one of my AP classes. Like a guy from a sports team. He can be dumb. I don’t care. I just want him to be a stone-cold hottie, who could rock me all night long.”Devi truly expressing her desires for this year
After the passing of her Father, Devi’s family support has been a bit on the quieter side. Nalini Vishwakumar (Poorna Jagannathan), now a single mother, is trying to move past the death of her husband, but there’s a strain between Devi and herself. Nalini has a strict demeanor towards Devi, a result of tension from months prior. Trying to bring balance to the household, Nalini has allowed Devi’s cousin Kamala (Richa Moorjani) to stay with them while she studies biology at Caltech. Kamala, being born in India, has all the characteristics of a traditional Indian woman which is something Nalini wishes Devi had a bit more of. This of course brings a bit of hostility between Devi and Kamala.
Let’s face it, no school experience is bearable without having those special friends to tackle the same experiences as you, especially in high school. For Devi the weight of popularity is also being held on the shoulders of her two best friends, Fabiola and Eleanor. So when Devi insists to her friends that this year that they’ll all have boyfriends (and even wrote a list for eligible suitors) the squad didn’t hesitate to fall in.
Eleanor Wong (Ramona Young) loves drama, and I don’t mean creating it, but preforming on stage. An inspiring actress and president of the school’s drama club, Eleanor’s acting is still evolving (it’s bit too to over the top) and is set to follow the footsteps of her famous actress mother.
Devi’s personality stands out, Eleanor’s acting is center stage, and then there is Fabiola Torres (Lee Rodriguez) who is more on the quieter the side and lets her interest in robotics speak for her, literally (well not all the time, but it happens). Fabiola, like Devi, is hardworking and driven but has great fears of disappointing her family, especially her mother.
If you were to ask Devi, Ben Gross’s (Jaren Lewison) last name depicts him completely, “Gross!”. High school is stressful enough with boys and popularity, but when you have your own nemesis at your disposal it’s pretty easy to let out frustration.
With an academic rivalry since grade school, Ben and Devi have had a heated competition for the title to be the smartest one. Ben often resorting to name calling and demeaning insults. However, being a bit of a badass, Devi is able to reflect back a quick insult towards Ben.
In the making of most coming-of-age series/movies it’s always guaranteed that there will be a heartthrob to fill in the role of “love interest”, and Never Have I Ever keeps the tradition alive.
For Devi, Paxton Hall-Yoshida (Darren Bennet) was this alluring, popular junior that would never be caught dating a girl like her. While this may have been true before, Devi was now a sophomore with a new purpose, and wasn’t going to be held back by the past. So she did what any what woman would do with a mission.
“So here’s the thing. I’m into you… Like, I could name every class you’ve had for the last two years… But I wont do that. And I know you’d never be my boyfriend, Because you’re you, and I’m me, but i was wondering of you would ever consider… h- – having sex with me?“
In my opionion every story needs a good narrator, who doesn’t like to think (huh, I have those thoughts too). In Never Have I Ever the series takes a different approach to this, by replacing Devi’s narration of herself with tennis pro John McEnroe. I know what you’re thinking, who is John McEnroe?
Well, John McEnroe was a tennis pro back in the early 1980’s. He has the success of finishing his career with 77 singles and 78 doubles which makes him one of the highest ranking tennis players in the world. As for his part in the narrating Devi’s life, McEnroe will explain this later.
Maitreyi Ramakrishnan’s portrayal of Devi is exceptional. You can really feel her internal battle in dealing with the aftermath of trauma. You understand the reasoning for her actions as she struggles to maintain the different relationships in her life.
The supporting cast is superb. Never I Have I Ever has done a wonderful job of bringing life into these characters. This Netflix original wouldn’t be as good as it is without the supporting cast that brings the phenomenal writing to life.
To be honest, I did assume that Never Have I Ever was going to be a PG version of American Pie or The Wonder Years, but I’m so glad to say I was wrong. With well placed comedic relief in each episode, Never Have I Ever doesn’t stray away from real personal topics like death, sexuality, self discovery and growth.
Have you seen Never Have I Ever? If so, we’d love to hear your thoughts over on the comment section on our website. Also don’t forget to download the Kernel App to stay up to date on reviews, originals, trailers, and our weekly podcast. You can also find Kernel on Twitter and Instagram. Till next time stay safe, stay positive and keep reading.