Creators: Mindy Kaling, Lang Fisher

Cast: Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Lee Rodriguez, Ramona Young, Jarren Lewison, Darren Barnett, Megan Suri, Poorna Jagannathan, Richa Moorjani, John McEnroe

Genre: Teenage sitcom, coming-of-age

Devi Vishwakumar and her friends are back for the third season of the Netflix megahit, Never Have I Ever. Season 3 is much like the previous two outings: Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan), Fabiola (Lee Rodriguez) and Eleanor (Ramona Young) continue to navigate relationships, friends, hormones and self-love.

It begins with Devi now in a confirmed relationship with popular high schooler, Paxton Hall-Yoshida (Darren Barnet). But 17-year-old Devi is still grappling with complexes that come with dating a much cooler guy. What if I’m not fun enough for Paxton? How am I supposed to keep cool when all these girls are thirsty for MY boyfriend? If my mom finds out I’m seeing him, it’s over for me. These thoughts keep poor Devi up all night.

Then in comes Des (Anirudh Pisharody), a hot Indian teen. He is A: smart enough to impress Indian parents, and B: His mom and Devi’s mom are practically best friends. In many ways, Des is the perfect desi boyfriend whom Devi’s mother would approve of.

These circumstances make for chaotic – albeit entertaining – situations, which conveniently resolve themselves just as quickly as they arise in the first place. And many valuable lessons are learned along the way which, I’m sure, teenagers would do well to take away from. 

But the scenes which steal the show aren’t the ones at the daytime school. It’s those where Devi interacts with people at home such as her mom Nalini (Poorna Jagannathan) and cousin Kamala (Richa Noorjani). 

Kamala is a sweetheart; we love to see her win as she gathers the courage to move out of a stressful home (specifically away from her nagging grandma) and finds her own place to live. No matter how much the grandmother and aunties pressure her to get married, the medical student refuses to hasten in such matters of the heart.

Darren Barnett once again makes us swoon, not with his abs, but by displaying his smart and responsible side. The star swimmer seems to be promoted as “the mom of the group” as he begins to offer guidance and counselling to Devi, Fab and their whole gang. It’s incredibly sweet to watch and very much giving Steve Harrington in Stranger Things. What is this irresistible charm that jocks with a soft heart have? 

Trent (Benjamin Norris), Paxton’s best friend, is our new favourite. His character development is, by far, the most drastic in the show as the teen stoner finds love with Eleanor, and learns to grow up and let go.

The moments that make your heart cry, however, are the flashbacks of Devi with her dad Mohan (who died), or memories between Mohan and Nalini. This tear-jerking subplot teaches us that grief comes to us in waves. If you truly love someone, you can never fully recover from that special sadness. And that’s okay.

A major new character in the show (besides desi boy Des) is Des’ mother, Rhyah (played by Sarayu Blue). Rhyah sports a relaxing body language and a bright smile while introducing herself as the town’s holistic nutritionist. She’s also sort of an antithesis to Nalini’s hardened and stern character. While Nalini is exactly what’s on the packet, Rhyah can be more…. well…. misleading. Rhyah’s character gives the show’s writers an opportunity to confront some of the hangups that the so-called “open minded” South Asian parents can have regarding mental health. Her dynamic with her son will get brown viewers to think about the mommy issues which many Indian boys harbour today.

What else is left to say? Maitreyi’s chemistry with Jarren Lewison (who plays her frenemy Ben) is as crackling as ever. And, Megan Suri, a tremendously pretty actor, portrays Aneesa with such vulnerability that it will hurt you in the guts. Narrator John McEnroe was always so compatible with this show. And he continues to be so. 

While NHIE is great fun for teens (especially fans who’ve followed this series for two years), some problems continue haunting the show like they did in the previous seasons. The dialogues can be too wordy and ‘refined’, which is understandable for grown-up characters like Devi’s professors. But for all of Sherman Oaks’ students to speak like precocious teenagers gives us the unenviable impression that they all walked out of Gilmore Girls. The lines can feel too expositional. There’s barely any use of silence as the writers have forgotten the Golden Rule of “show, don’t tell”. Trent is probably the only character who speaks like a teen, with brief lines and simplistic words. 

Unfortunately, this is a typical stunt for countless TV shows (and web series) because the makers often assume that viewers are occupied with other activities while consuming the show. It’s believed that viewers hardly look at the screen and only listen to the actors speak. Hence, viewers’ understanding of the plot might heavily depend on what the characters directly address vocally. This view (which is largely false) explains why so many TV writers put emphasis on expositional dialogue to inform the audience on everything. Sadly, this move negatively affects the quality of any show.

In addition to this error, another concern with NHIE (though less grave) are the almost unrealistic situations, which take place in Devi’s school life. This could cause young, impressionable audiences to have similar expectations from their own adolescent years. And they might get deeply let down when things don’t go the “Never Have I Ever” way. Because let’s face it. If Devi, Fabiola and Eleanor are indeed the loser nerds they claim they are, how come they’ve hopped from relationship to relationship? And have had nine cute boyfriends (and girlfriends) between them in the course of three seasons? That’s not dork behaviour.

And is it even possible for Devi to juggle between three guys all while being a class-topper? Her scores are fantastic and she’s even offered a massive educational opportunity (of which we won’t go into detail).

But teen coming-of-age media is well-known for being larger than life, even a product of wish fulfilment for the shows’ grown-up writers. So the lack of realism shouldn’t bother diehard fans of teen content too much.

All in all, the third season of NHIE is a silly, fast-paced and bittersweet series, which you’ll enjoy binge watching. That is, if you love the sappy and awkward high school comedy genre. It’s not that deep. And it gets occasionally raunchy. Also, it’s hilarious when the characters make references to contemporary real-life media (look out for the Squid Game joke). If you’re into all of this, go ahead and give it a try!

‘Never Have I Ever – Season 3’ is now streaming on Netflix. It is currently ranking #1 on TV Today.

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