‘Never Have I Ever’ Creator: Mindy Kaling, Lang Fisher
Cast: Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Ramona Young, Lee Rodriguez, Jaren Lewison, Darren Barnet, Richa Moorjani, Poora Jagannathan 10 episodes, approx. 29 minutes
The anticipated second season of Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher’s teen comedy, Never Have I Ever, is out now. As expected, the new season has the staple charm and good humour of the sharp screenwriter Mindy Kaling (The Mindy Project, The Office and Late Night).
The Netflix series follows 15-year-old Indian-American student Devi Vishwakumar (played effortlessly by Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) who has to juggle her two new boyfriends Ben (Jaren Lewison) and Paxton (Darren Barnet), while also coping with the tragic death of her father, and staying on the good side of her stern and newly-widowed mother (Poorna Jagannathan). This she does with the help of a cast of colourful characters that include her best friends Eleanor (Ramona Young) and Fabiola (Lee Rodriguez) and her beautiful scientist-cousin Kamala (Richa Moorjani). Thrown into this chaotic mix of people is the new transfer student named Aneesa (played by the freshface Megan Suri), who’s an Indian-American teen just like Devi, but far cooler and popular, thereby earning Devi’s jealousy.
Let’s start here. Newcomer Megan Suri absolutely shines as the strongly self-assured transfer student Aneesa who grabs Ben’s attention and earns Devi’s contempt but has secrets of her own. Aneesa’s addition to the story kicks things to a higher gear and gives the existing characters newer emotions situations to deal with including the issues of eating disorders and rumour spreading. There comes a point when it looks like she’ll transfer again, and possibly never re-appear in the show. It is a nerve-wracking scene that threatens to break your heart, making you miss the character even though she hasn’t departed.
Despite this, the high school ensemble comedy remains largely lighthearted and sweet, with the show ending on a life-affirming note. The heartbreakingly sad moments of Season 1, such as Devi dealing with her father’s sudden death and seeing him in flashbacks, are largely missing in Season 2. Although Devi continues to remember her father and his affirming words for his daughter, they do not hit as emotionally hard as they did in the previous season.
This, however, does not significantly stain the quality of the show. What does pose a major problem to experiencing this comedy is the dialogue writing. The main characters, who are supposed to be awkward teenagers, speak in long sentences with perfect grammar. The only character who converses like a real-life teen, i.e. in broken or single word sentences, is Paxton. It’s ironic since Darren Barnet, who plays Paxton, is the eldest among the high school cast (he’s a whopping 30 year old!). It gets clear in many scenes that the writers behind the show are grown-ups who have hardly seeked consultation from teens regarding the slang they actually use.
Another unavoidable issue with the show is the over-reliance on exposition through dialogue. In the second half of the season, it seems the writers got bored of embedding the script with intricate details, actions, and gestures. It shows because towards the end perhaps by Episode 8 – the teen characters simply enter the frame and stand with their bodies facing the camera, and their faces towards the other characters while announcing an important development in the plot before leaving the frame. Expositional dialogues abound and the audience itself is barely shown much, only explained to. The quality of the writing here seems to have dropped significantly as the acting and writing become equal to that of a school play. Additionally, there is a real absence of meaningful silence and quiet contemplation in this series. But perhaps that is common in most teen-catered Netflix shows and shouldn’t be fussed over. Also, the target audience is 14 to 18 years old and probably doesn’t care.
For all its shortcomings, Season 2 has its fair share of strengths. The costumes for everyone – from culturally open Devi to the tomboy Fabiola, and baddie Eve (Fabiola’s girlfriend) to the smart businesswoman Nalini (Devi’s mother) – expertly reflect their respective personalities and backgrounds. There are genuinely funny scenes all around: the party scene where Devi two-times her boyfriends, the relay race sequence, the absolute airhead (that is theatre kid Malcolm) who stares at the moon and waxes lyrical; and then heart-wrenching scenes when Paxton Hall-Yoshida explores his Japanese heritage to uncover a dark history, or when Devi fearfully asks her therapist, Dr. Ryan, if she is indeed crazy; as well as incredibly discomfort-inducing but true-to-life scenes when Paxton publicly turns down Devi’s prom proposal.
In the end, there were many scenes that could have been explored deeper such as Fabiola’s mother trying to understand her daughter better. Or poor Oliver realizing that his girlfriend Eleanor is losing interest in him as she becomes infatuated with a cuter, more confident boy. Or we could finally get the story of the headstrong Jonah Sharpe, one of the few out and proud gay kids in Sherman Oaks High. I still think Devi hasn’t properly explored her own Indian-American background and the complexes and insecurities that come along with it. So far, both the seasons have the heroine teasing these topics before skirting around them to play with the more conventional rom-com tropes.
In the end, there are plenty of threads and stories still unexplored in this season that we can only hope to see in the next season. One thing’s for sure, despite all the cons, Season 2 has grabbed this author’s attention and left her hungry and wanting more.
‘Never Have I Ever: Season 2’ is now available on Netflix.