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Never Have I Ever Review: An Entertaining Teen Comedy-Drama with No Real Substance

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When the second season of creators Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher’s teenage sitcom Never Have I Ever dropped on Netflix on Thursday, there were a lot of burning questions: What fresh stereotypes are the show’s creators going to introduce? Will we continue to see a one-dimensional portrayal of all characters? And finally, will Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) choose the swimmer Paxton Hall-Yoshida (Darren Barnet) or her rival-turned-friend Ben Gross (Jaren Lewison)? With season one ending on a cliffhanger, the last question becomes especially pertinent.

Thankfully, the show answers all our questions. The second season picks up where the last one left off. After scattering her father Mohan’s (Sendhil Ramamurthy) ashes and reconciling with her mother Nalini (Poorna Jagannathan), Devi kisses Ben in the car. Shortly after, she gets asked out on a date by Paxton. Unable to make a choice between them, she decides to date them both.

Since her mother informs her that they will be moving to India at the end of the semester, she concludes that she will be far away from Sherman Oaks High School by the time the two boys figure out that she has been cheating on them.

Credits: Netflix

The second season definitely has more to offer than the first one. The ridiculous over-the-top stereotypes have been toned down. Unlike in season one, we do not have to sit through an episode about Ganesh Puja celebrations where they use shots of Indians celebrating Durga Puja. However, Devi’s Tamilian grandmother still says “Taamil” instead of Tamizh, a mispronounciation no one wants to hear, and the family randomly inserts words like ‘kanna’, ‘kutty’ and ‘vendam’ to remind the audiences that they are Indian.

The characters have been fleshed out more. In the earlier season, Nalini was just portrayed as an over-protective and strict South-Asian mother. This season focuses on what her work is like as a dermatologist. The new season also showcases her conflicted feelings about moving on from her late husband, and her attempt to have a better relationship with her daughter.

Humour and oodles of drama drive the show. The plotlines are fairly simple and are not specific to South Asians.  This includes Devi’s insecurity and jealousy about her new Indian classmate Aneesa’s (Megan Suri) popularity, her complicated relationship with Paxton, and her struggle with being unpopular at school. It is nothing we have not seen before but comments from the show’s narrator John McEnroe’s like, “This new kid was proving that Devi might just be objectively lame” and “If it wasn’t obvious to you before, these two girls are virgins,” showcase the kind of light-hearted humour that sustains the audience’s interest in this cliched drama.

Plus, like the earlier season, the show has a new guest narrator Gigi Hadid, who narrates an episode focused on Paxton. Hadid, who exhales with frustration when Praxton cannot seem to remember the full form of NATO, is particularly enjoyable.

The show is more Devi-centric this time around.  Like the first season, she continues to be self-centred and unbothered about the consequences of her actions. From inadvertently spreading a rumour about Aneesa to letting other students take the fall for it, Devi is infuriating. But she is also witty, funny, and thoroughly entertaining. Her jokes and repartees, like calling Aneesa’s Ferrero Rocher pyramid a “Rolex of confection gift boxes for Indians,” are delectable.

Never Have I Ever touches upon important issues through its supporting characters, such as eating disorders, sexism, and toxic relationships. However, these arcs are hardly given any screen time and the resolutions feel incomplete and rushed.

Rather than using it to make a point about the struggles that teenagers face, Aneesa’s battle with anorexia feels like a tool to simply create drama between Devi and her.

Worst of all is Devi’s perfect cousin Kamala’s (Richa Moorjani) arc. Kamala struggles to find a way to deal with her sexist boss who takes credit for her work. It could have been a redemption from her drab and one-dimensional characterisation in the first season. However, it is let down by the writers’ half-baked and uninteresting attempt at female empowerment.

There is a barrage of TV shows aimed at teenagers out there. From the Gossip Girl reboot to Riverdale, they all make desperate but failed attempts to master Generation Z’s lingo. This is something that Never Have I Ever gets right.

Dialogues like, “I’m going to bust out of here like the Road-Runner” and “Distance makes the heart grow fonder and proximity makes the heart want to barf” are funny and relatable. Even an over-the-top and ridiculous sub-plot like the robotics club member Eric stealing girls’ hats at a party as a way of flirting with them is better than any episode of Riverdale.

Never Have I Ever’s second season is cheesy, funny, and frustrating all at once, making it a perfect teenage show to watch as long as you don’t expect anything substantial or ground-breaking.

*****

The Never Have I Ever review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

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