Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher’s Never Have I Ever revolves around the four years of high school life. High school is the time when we start becoming aware of our bodies, develop crushes, fall in love and go through heartbreak for the first time. This awareness is then followed by self-esteem issues. It’s because we stumble upon the world in a whole new way without having any clue about who we are and therefore, looking for role models. The four-part series successfully captures the infatuations, confusions and frustrations that we go through in the four years of our high school life.
Throughout the four seasons, Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) has four love interests but her relationship with Des (Anirudh Pisharody) is the most moving and heartbreaking one, in my opinion. When Devi sees Des for the first time, her jaw drops. As someone who is not comfortable being an Indian herself, she does not expect herself to find a desi boy attractive. Des confronts her about being the kind of Indian girl who only falls for the white guys and thinks all desi boys are uncool computer nerds. It’s an important scene in the show because it’s the first time Devi is being called out for being racist by another desi. This scene is symbolic of how as teens we would not feel comfortable in our skin because all our role models in popular culture would not look and sound like us. It’s only when we grow up that we realise that it’s because of a lack of representation.
After a rocky start, Devi and Des bond over failed relationships. As they do a slow dance, they find themselves falling for each other. When Des looks out of the car to see if Devi turns back for a last goodbye and she does or when Devi writes in her notebook that she has a crush on Des, we also feel the butterflies in our stomach. It’s both endearing and fun to watch them compete with each other in the debate tournament and steal kisses when their mothers are not looking.
When Devi was in a relationship with Paxton (Darren Barnet), she was never happy and could never have a good time because she was always intimidated by how good looking he was. It made her wonder why would Paxton want to be with her and even if he was, he was probably doing her a favour. Having being considered a good looking boy all his life, he could not empathise with Devi’s insecurities about her looks. Devi was much more happier and at ease with herself when she was with Des because he made her feel admired. She is flattered when Des tells her that he is intimidated by her intelligence and that he likes it. She empathises with Des when he tells her how insecure he felt when he saw her with such a handsome boy like Paxton. She feels admired when he calls her beautiful and hot. More often than not we spend our time trying to deal with our feelings about a particular person that we forget to take into consideration how they make us feel about ourselves. Des made Devi feel secure and confident in her own skin.
When Des’s mother asks him to break up with Devi because she has a lot of emotional baggage from her father’s death, he is initially hesitant but when she is persistent, he gives into her because he is unable to stand up to his mother. He is also afraid of confronting Devi because he has fallen for her, too. Nevertheless, he chooses his mother over Devi because he thinks dating her isn’t worth pissing off his mother, especially when he is financially dependent on her. It is a heartbreaking moment. Even though the whole confrontation scene ends with them apologising to each other, the hurt stays. We wonder if Devi and Des would have any chance in the future. Even though they don’t have a happy ending, I think it was Devi’s most enriching relationship.
Most films and series in the young adult space, for instance - Mismatched, try to be politically correct but at a superficial level. The characters in Mismatched felt paper thin and pretentious. The socio-political issues that were brought up in the show lacked authenticity. Never Have I Ever operates in that same universe as Mismatched but what makes it different, though, is it’s understanding of the issues that Generation Z are grappling with and not taking itself too seriously. Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher look at Generation Z and their issues with empathy and sense of humour while staying away from reductionist stereotypes. This is what makes Never Have I Ever fun and light but not frivolous and lightweight.