Season Review: Never Have I Ever (Netflix, 2020)

I’m a little late to the party since Never Have I Ever released on Netflix on April 27th but there’s just so many amazing shows nowadays that it can be hard to keep up. At least I joined the party!

Co-created by Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher, Never Have I Ever is Netflix’s latest coming-of-age dramedy to take the world by storm. The show centers around 15-year-old Devi Vishwakumar (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) who is desperate to change her social status and redeem herself from her disastrous and traumatic freshman year of high school. Let’s just say, the only thing worse than being known as the freshman who lost her dad during a recital is being the girl who lost the ability to walk because her dad died and she went into shock. Just as quickly as she lost the ability to walk, she gained it back and now Devi is determined to redefine herself and make sophomore year her bitch. With her friends by her side, Devi devises a plan to get them boyfriends so they can start climbing the high school social ladder. In addition to her plan, Devi must also learn how to finally grieve her father’s death, deal with her nemesis Ben (Jaren Lewison), and figure out how she’s going to get her crush Paxton (Darren Barnet) to fall in love with her.

In true coming-of-age fashion, the show deals with friendships, crushes, parties, and the general displeasure that comes with being a teenager. It’s cringey, hilarious, heartbreaking, and emotional all at the same time. Plus, it’s a fun and easy binge you can knock out in a day or two if you’re a hardcore binger.

Now, here is my review of Never Have I Ever.

As always, spoilers ahead. Proceed at your own risk.

Favorite Episode: 1×10 — “…Said I’m Sorry”

Netflix

Season finale episodes can be hit or miss but Never Have I Ever knocked it out of the park. It truly did the impossible by tying up loose ends while still leaving us on a cliffhanger of sorts so that we beg Netflix for a season two.

With the title, “…Said I’m Sorry,” it’s safe to assume that episode 10 is going to be the redemption episode for Davi. What’s so incredible about this episode is that it’s not just Davi who is saying sorry for her actions, everyone around her is. The episode begins at Ben’s house since she has moved in with him so that her mother can’t force her to move to India. When Nalini shows up at Ben’s house Devi is less than pleased. Her displeasure soon turns to anger when Nalini tells Devi that she plans to spread her father’s ashes today, on his birthday. Devi freaks out and refuses to attend because she fears this is another “spring cleaning” attempt so they can go to India.

When Ben finds out that Devi isn’t going to the beach to spread her father’s ashes he springs into action. He convinces Devi’s best friends Fabiola (Lee Rodriguez) and Eleanor (Ramona Young) to put aside their annoyance with Devi and come convince her that she needs to do this with her mother. The girls show up and eventually convince Devi that she needs to do the right thing. Ben offers to take Devi to Malibu and though they face some obstacles, Devi makes it and is able to reconcile with her mother.

Meanwhile, Paxton gets a reality check from his sister Rebecca (Lily D. Moore) and shows up at Devi’s house. When she’s not there he calls and leaves her a voicemail. Devi doesn’t get the message right away though since she discovers Ben waiting for her in the parking lot of the beach. Instead of checking her phone, Devi and Ben kiss.

All of that happens in less than 30 minutes so its a pretty intense episode but an amazing one nonetheless.

As I mentioned above, I love this episode because everyone gets their apology moment.

Devi must first apologize to Fabiola and Eleanor, again, for her shitty behavior. What I love though, is that it’s not just Devi who’s apologizing, Fabiola and Eleanor also recognize that they’ve been a bit unfair to Devi too. One line that really stands out to me is when Eleanor says “just because we aren’t talking doesn’t mean we don’t care about you.” It speaks volumes about what teenage friendship looks like. It’s messy and there will be fights but true friends will always be there for you when needed. And they’ll always be there to call you out on your bullshit and point out harsh realities.

The true emotional moment of this episode comes when Devi and Nalini reconcile on the beach before spreading Mohan’s ashes. While it’s Devi who begins apologizing for her terrible behavior and for telling her mother she wished she had died, it’s Nalini who steals the show by apologizing for making Devi feel like she didn’t love her. It’s the perfect mother-daughter moment for these two and one that is so important because it shows that these two do love each other despite everything they’ve said and been through.

There’s one more apology within this episode, though it’s more subtle. To me, Devi and Ben finally apologize to each other for their years of bickering and nonsense fighting when they kiss in that car. Not only did Ben prove that Devi can count on him in the hard times, but Devi also proved to Ben that she could appreciate his presence.

Least Favorite Episode: 1×06 — “…Been The Loneliest Boy In The World”

Netflix

Before you yell at me, it’s not what you think. I absolutely adore Ben; in fact, he’s my favorite male character in the show. And I don’t even hate that they decided to give Ben a stand-alone episode, what I hate about it is that it didn’t do anything to further tell us who Ben Gross really is.

The episode, which is narrated by Andy Samberg, opens with Ben on the bus on the way home from the disastrous Model UN event. Not only is he hurt that Devi turned on him causing him to lose, but he’s also hurt because he thought they really had a breakthrough moment at the hotel party. Things only get worse for Ben when he gets home and finds out his mother is leaving for another retreat so she can “be a better mother.” In addition, Ben’s father informs Ben that he’ll be unable to go to an NBA game with Ben.

Things aren’t much better for Ben at school. Sure, he has a girlfriend but she’s only with him for his father’s money and he’s definitely lacking in the friend department. In fact, Ben becomes so overcome with loneliness that he agrees to meet some dude he met in a Reddit forum. Of course, that goes about as well as one might think and Ben flees the restaurant after the dude is revealed to be a middle-aged man who asks him to “blow on his pizza.”

After a large pimple finds a home on his face, Ben goes to Dr. Vishwakumar’s office to get it dealt with. While in the chair, Ben breaks down and Dr. Vishwakumar ends up inviting him over to her house. Let’s just say Devi is less than pleased to have her nemesis sitting across from her at the dinner table. Despite it all, they end up having a great time together. In fact, Devi and Ben even have a moment while doing dishes together.

See, I told you it wasn’t a bad episode!

As I was researching the show I stumbled upon an article published on Forward.com that exposed the show’s “Jewish problem.” The author, Mira Fox, makes some good points, and its one of the reasons I decided to pick this episode as my least favorite.

Fox points out that while the other characters are either not defined by their backgrounds or are allowed to have nuanced opinions about their backgrounds. Everyone that is, except for Ben who is trapped under endless Jewish stereotypes.

Ben’s stand-alone episode could have given us the depth to his character and his personality. It could have introduced us to his family and his life that is drastically different than Devi’s. It could have even explored his Jewish background in the same way that Devi got to explore her Indian heritage in episode 4.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that this episode lacked depth until the final scene with Devi and Ben in the kitchen together. When I realized it was Ben’s point-of-view episode I had high hopes for it but unfortunately, all I got was a bunch of character backstory I already knew and a weird catfish scenario.

Favorite Character: Devi Vishwakumar

Netflix

I’ll be honest, I had a really hard time picking a favorite character because there were so many amazing ones to chose from. My honorable mentions include Ben, Kamala, and Mohan but I eventually decided to pick Devi since I had more to say about her as a character.

Devi is insufferable at times and she’s selfish pretty much all the time but that’s why I love her so much. All too often we expect the female characters to be nurturing, to be selfless, and to be this perfect stereotypical version of what a woman should be. It’s refreshing to see a teen girl who’s allowed to be a mess because let’s face it, teenage girls are messy.

While it might seem that Devi stays static for most of the season, it’s simply not the case. With every minor mistake and fall out with a person, Devi is getting closer and closer to working through her grief and trauma to become a better person.

One of the things I love about her is that she’s so ready to have the best sophomore year ever that she doesn’t stray away from asking for exactly what she wants. Is her asking Paxton to have sex with her even though they’ve barely talked weird and probably qualifies as harassment? Yes, but when has a teenage girl ever been allowed to pursue what she wants so stubbornly?

More importantly, I think Devi is an extremely interesting and important character because of how she deals with her father’s death. While it might be an odd statement, I found that a lot of people I knew in high school, myself included, went through their first death while in high school. High school is hard enough with the pressure to succeed academically and socially but when you add in the need to grieve it gets so much more complicated.

Devi’s grieving process explores one that’s not traditional but is common. She’s so affected by her father’s death that she simply cannot process it. Dr. Jamie Ryan (Niecy Nash), Devi’s therapist, nails it when she tells Devi that all her issues with people stem from her trauma from her father’s death and the fact that she hasn’t been able to grieve it. And while I don’t condone Devi’s constant need to use her father’s death as an excuse or pass for her behavior, I do understand it.

Lastly, I want to briefly discuss Devi’s relationship with her Indian heritage. I love that the series chooses to introduce her right from the start as someone who isn’t “traditional” or rather is “Americanized.” We further see her complex relationship with her heritage explored in the fourth episode of the series. In fact, she even states that sometimes “she doesn’t feel Indian enough” to a family friend who used to feel the same way but after going to college has reconnected with his heritage.

It’s a theme we’re seeing explored a lot with characters who are both American and from a different ethnic/religious/racial background and one that is so important. I’m glad we got to see Devi’s version of her struggle to fit in and I hope (assuming the show is picked up for a second season) we get to see it explored more later one.

Least Favorite Character: Eleanor Wong

Netflix

Similar to my disclosure before my least favorite episode, I also don’t really have a least favorite character from Never Have I Ever. Part of the reason why this was so difficult that all because all the characters are sort of terrible which is the point of the series!

While I could have picked a guest character, I decided to pick a character that was a bit more permanent to the story at large. In the end, I ended up choosing Eleanor as my least favorite character. While I did like aspects of Eleanor’s character, I felt that she was just another stereotypical theater kid. While it’s true theater kids can be over the top and dramatic, it’s not true for everyone. I wish the media would understand this and diversify it’s theater kid characters.

I also wasn’t a fan of her plotline with her mother. While it was interesting and unique it didn’t pull the same emotional weight as Devi or Fabiola’s storylines. I had a lot of questions regarding the plot. Why was her mother hiding from her? Was she ashamed? Why did Eleanor decide to give up acting when she finally was finally the lead? I know it’s because she didn’t want to be like her mother but by giving it up she became her mother.

Again, I just wanted more from her both in her character personality and in her storylines.

Favorite Pairing: Devi and Josh

Devi and Ben have breakfast together at Ben's House in Netflix's Never Have I Ever
Netflix

Like most teen shows, Never Have I Ever does have a love triangle but unlike most shows, this one doesn’t seem forced. You’re either Team Paxton or Team Ben and I am 100% Team Ben.

While Devi and Paxton are cute (if you can get past the fact that the actors are literally 10 years apart in age), but they’re nothing unique about them. The cool guy falling for the nerdy girl is a tried and true trope and Never Have I Ever doesn’t do much to make it fresh. Nemesis to lovers, on the other hand, is something I haven’t seen done in quite some time which is why I was so excited when the show decided to explore Devi and Ben’s relationship.

Ben and Devi just get each other, even if they don’t think they do. They’re both competitive and smart, they both deal with familial struggles, and they’re both desperate to figure out who they are so they can fit in. In fact, the one thing constant in these two lives is each other’s presence. Even in their most vulnerable moments, these two seek each other out because they know they’ll be real with each other.

I mean come on, Ben ends up at Devi’s house after being neglected by his family and his girlfriend and Devi literally moves into Ben’s house when she has nowhere else to go. Not only that, but Ben literally rallies Devi’s best friends because he knows they’ll be able to convince her to do the right thing.

When will your favs ever?!

I knew I was shipping them the entire season but what really sealed the deal was the fact that Ben stayed at the beach when he didn’t have to. He could have dropped Devi off and left which would have forced her to work things out with her mom or else she’s been stranded at the beach. instead, he chose to stay because he didn’t want Devi to be forced into any situation she didn’t want to.

In my eyes, there is no love triangle after that kiss!

Complaints:

Netflix

One of my biggest complaints regarding Never Have I Ever is that the series didn’t utilize it’s reoccurring characters as strongly as they should have. Obviously, the show is mainly about Devi and her struggles but that doesn’t mean that the other characters couldn’t share some of the action. There were several episodes where they were MIA completely. I would have loved to see Fabiola struggle to figure out the right way to tell her family that she is a lesbian. I would have loved to see Eleanor in action in the theater club and how her relationship with a crew member made that better or worse. I wanted to see more of Paxton and Rebecca’s relationship. I really really wanted to get to know Kamala better. It almost felt like Never Have I Ever was pulling a Twilight by having all these amazing secondary characters who didn’t get the time they deserved. I hope we get to see more of them in season 2!

Another complaint of mine was the arranged marriage storyline. While I’m not Indian and I can not speak to the culture at large, I personally felt like it was an outdated stereotype. For a show that’s so diverse and progressive, I felt they could have done something else with her character that was equally as entertaining and conflict inducing. Or, at the very least I would have wanted them to dig deeper into why she was being subjected to an arranged marriage. I guess what I’m saying is that I didn’t like that the storyline was played for laughs instead of actually digging deeper into it. It still could have funny elements but I wanted a deeper meaning out of it. Who knows, maybe that’s something that’ll happen in season 2.

Lastly, and this one is minor and has nothing to do with the writing, I was displeased with the fact that they cast two actors who are ten years apart to play romantic love interests. Look, I get it, when an actor is right for the part they’re right for the part but at some point, you have to be cautious of age. Maitreyi Ramakrishnan who plays Devi is only 18 and yet Darren Barnet who plays Paxton is 29. Maybe I’m too old but I just can’t ship a couple knowing that there is an age difference of 10 years! Ramakrishnan and Barnet are both amazing actors and they did an amazing job portraying their characters and I wouldn’t want them re-casted. I just would prefer it if they weren’t love interests.

Praise:

Netflix

I haven’t loved a show so quickly and so deeply in a long time so it was refreshing to have that moment again while watching Never Have I Ever.

The humor and the dialogue was spot on from the beginning to the end. I literally laughed through every episode of the show not because I had to because I genuinely thought it was hilarious. From one-liners to entire conversations I seriously couldn’t believe how funny the show is. And it’s not just cringe humor nor is it purely physical humor. It’s not even just the humor that the dialogue nailed but also the serious and awkward moments. I cried through the entire final five minutes because of the dialogue leading up to that moment and the dialogue in the moment itself.

Never Have I Ever completely nailed the awkwardness of being a teenager in high school. I don’t know what exactly it was but watching the show immediately transported me back to my sophomore year of high school which is both a bad and a good thing. The friendships dynamics were spot on. I loved that they explored a friendship break in an authentic and positive way instead of it being a bigger moment than it needed to be. Had friendship breaks been acceptable when I was in high school I probably would have had more friends. Even the relationships were spot on — both romantic and familial. In fact, I really appreciated that Devi and her mother weren’t the perfect mother-daughter duo and that they both were still grieving Mohan’s death.

I absolutely love the show’s diverse characters. One thing I think was groundbreaking about the show is that none of their sexualities/races/ethnicities/religions specifically defined who they were. Devi wasn’t just an Indian-American character. Fabiola wasn’t just a lesbian. Eleanor wasn’t just Asian-American. Ben wasn’t just Jewish. Paxton wasn’t just Japanese-American. They were those things but they were teenagers first and foremost. Were there times I wished we got to know more of their backgrounds? Of course, but I also appreciated that it wasn’t the focal point of their characters or the story at large.

Finally, I did love that they gave Ben a stand-alone episode — even if it was my least favorite episode. It was refreshing to have a different point-of-view character and it helped keep the series fresh and entertaining as I binge-watched. I really hope they continue with this trend and that we get to see Ben have his own episode again but also that some of the other characters get there’s too. I’d love to see Kamala and Paxton get one to explore their characters more. Fabiola and Eleanor would also be interesting too. Even Devi’s mother would be interesting!

* * *

Overall, I did really love Never Have I Ever. I thought it was fun, fresh, diverse, and entertaining. I will definitely be rooting for the series to get a second season because I’m not done with these characters.

You can stream Never Have I Ever on Netflix.

What did you think of Never Have I Ever? What was your favorite and least favorite episode? Who do you ship? Are you hoping for a season 2? Let me know in the comments or by tweeting me @3RsBlog.

Featured Image Source: Netflix

4 thoughts on “Season Review: Never Have I Ever (Netflix, 2020)

  1. I watched Never Have I Ever a week ago and it is a good show in my opinion. But I had a friend that said she was cringing at it when she was watching it. I guess it’s not to everyone’s liking! But I love it! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    Like

  2. I liked this show a lot. Loved reading your review! Personally loved the Model UN episode a lot as it gave me such a good laugh about my own Model UN experiences, and gave us a look into what a Ben x Devi pairing might look like before it all went up into flames. The finale is a close second! Thanks for sharing your thoughts 😊

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