By Caroline Palermo, Guest Writer
Netflix is no stranger to coming-of-age shows. It has myriad options in its arsenal, easily allowing you to add one to your watchlist — the very one that you’ll skip over for several months while you declare that there’s nothing to watch and then proceed to rewatch Friends for the fifth time.
At first glance, Never Have I Ever may seem like another one of those teen dramas with 30-year-olds playing teenagers, love triangles, the strange absence of homework and best friends with seemingly no outside life — but it’s not. Never Have I Ever deals with coming-of-age issues in a way that feels authentic.
Devi Vishwakumar (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan), a first-generation Indian-American teen, is eager for a fresh start as she begins her sophomore year. Viewers cannot help but sympathize with Devi as her tumultuous inner voice and narrator, John McEnroe, recaps her freshman year.
Devi unexpectedly loses her father during her orchestra concert, triggering a psychosomatic paralysis in her legs and the arrival of her seemingly-perfect cousin Kamala (Richa Moorjani).
Luckily, she overcomes her paralysis before the start of sophomore year. Determined to move past the label of “paralyzed Indian girl whose dad dropped dead at a school function,” Devi sets forth with a plan to rebrand herself and her best friends into cool kids.
The most refreshing aspect of the show is Devi’s character. While many shows center around a White, likable, upper-class protagonist, Devi is almost none of these things. She’s South Asian, narcissistic and has a temper that gets her into far too much trouble, but she’s also funny, sweet and insecure. At her core, Devi is a good kid, but she makes selfish decisions that negatively impact her loved ones.
Whereas other shows may brush away these flaws, Never Have I Ever combats this by having Devi face consequences for her actions. When she sacrifices her relationships with her friends for a boy, her friends take a break from her toxicity.
Devi is beautifully complex and a sight for sore eyes, whereas typically, she would be considered nothing beyond “racially diverse.”
It is uplifting to see Never Have I Ever tackle coming-of-age issues with tact. Much of the first season deals with Devi’s avoidance of accepting the loss of her father, while her mother tries to adjust to becoming a newly single mom.
It’s a realistic glimpse into the heartbreak and struggle of losing a loved one. It’s common to see diverse side characters, but they usually feel like cutouts pressed into the script to appease the masses.
Never Have I Ever notably pulls away from this with characters like Fabiola (Lee Rodriguez), an anxious teen with more interest in robotics than pop culture. It showcases her struggle of finding her identity as a gay teen, while her peers try to tell her who she should be now. Her arc underscores that this is not something that defines her; it’s simply another thing that makes her Fabiola.
Never Have I Ever is not perfect. It has moments where the teen dialogue sounds more like a Twitter post or the occasional character who reads more like a caricature than a real human. Yet, the show manages to represent teens and their struggles in an authentic way that so many others fail to do.