Preoccupied as it can often be with winning the white man’s approval, Never Have I Ever occasionally provides authentic insight into desi culture. In its second season, the sweet-natured Netflix comedy matures like its protagonist, Devi.
But this culture-clash is ever-present. In one scene, for instance, Devi’s mother wishes for a closed-casket funeral in a moment of anger — an odd joke, considering she’s Hindu — but in another, Devi’s ‘pati’ watches news about a tropical storm and wonders if they have any relatives in the area to make concerned phone calls to.
Discussing extraordinary weather conditions with distant relatives is a hyper-specific (and very underrated) Indian pass time. Or time-pass, as we like to call it. Every monsoon season, folks from all over the country call their kin in Mumbai and tut-tut about the flooding. Similarly, summertime sadness is further fuelled in New Delhi when people call in to talk about the heatwave.
Watch the Never Have I Ever Season 2 trailer:
Creators Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher’s coming-of-age comedy continues to make insightful observations about the of misadventures of Devi Vishwakumar (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan), as she struggles with her love life, comes to terms with her grief, and deals with her mother and best friends. She also learns to embrace her flaws, something that she struggled with in season one.
She goofs up so often (and so spectacularly) in these nine new episodes that her friends — Eleanor and Fabiola — are prompted to begin using her name as a ‘negative adjective’. “You really Devi’d it up this time,” they tell her in one scene, much to her disapproval. But every time she messes up, she immediately gravitates towards the last voicemail her father sent her before he died. He used to call her his ‘perfect girl’.
But Devi knows that she’s far from perfect; that she’s no ‘devi’. Season two begins with her being torn between the jock Paxton Hall-Yoshida and the more approachable Ben Gross. After some initial confusion, both Devi and the series make a decision about whom she should date. And for the next few episodes, Paxton is iced with next to no remorse. But Devi isn’t let off the hook either. Her bafflingly on-brand decision to date both of them, simultaneously, followed by her passive aggression towards series newcomer Aneesa — another Indian girl to eat into whatever little clout that Devi had at school — massively backfires on her, and ends in public humiliation.
This season is more Devi-centric than the last, which I felt was about a trio of female leads — her mother Nalini and her cousin Kamala’s storylines were just as affecting.
In season two, Nalini tests the waters of romance for the first time since her husband Mohan’s death. She fills his void with a fellow doctor, played by Common, who somewhat makes up for the overall lack of Sendhil Ramamurthy in season two. Poorna Jagannathan is excellent as Nalini, effortlessly balancing the season’s more dramatic scenes with the relatively breezy mother-daughter moments. She remains the series’ highlight, just as Richa Moorjani and her awkward accent remain a sticking point.
Never Have I Ever is a strange beast. It suggests that Indians eat naan with every meal — we don’t — and it is clearly the creation of someone who is separated by a palpable generational distance from their culture. But then again, this conflict is what Devi, and perhaps Kaling herself, are hounded by. She’s a regular American high-schooler more than anything else. When her friends come over in one scene, she has no interest in Nalini’s special pani puri; she’d prefer some pizza rolls. When Nalini leaves for a trip to India, she does what every teenager in her position would, and invites her entire year for a party at home.
While Aziz Ansari’s attempts to un-cancel himself unfold with a deliberate pace, Never Have I Ever is Netflix’s more wholesome serving of South Asian representation. Its audience skews younger, but there’s maturity in how it handles its themes.
Never Have I Ever Season 2
Creators – Mindy Kaling, Lang Fisher
Cast – Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Poorna Jagannathan, Darren Barnett, Ramona Young, Lee Rodriguez, Richa Moorjani, Jaren Lewison, John McEnroe
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The author tweets @RohanNaahar