Netflix’s newest coming of age, Never Have I Ever, is under the spotlight
If there’s one genre of film and literature that I will never get tired of, I’m inclined to say that it’s coming of age. There’s just something about watching someone try to figure out an aspect of their life—whether romance, familial, educational—that will always speak to me and millions of other post-teenagers. Maybe it’s because most of us feel like we’re in a constant state of figuring things out, too.
Never Have I Ever is Netflix’s latest addition to its roster of coming of age content. It follows the life of Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan), a first-generation Indian-American on her sophomore year of high school. She’s determined to make it her best year yet and, armed with best friends Fabiola (Lee Rodriguez) and Eleanor (Ramona Young), ditch her reputation as the girl-whose-father-died and girl-who-was-temporarily-paralyzed-for-no-known-medical-reason.
But how? The answer, as Devi lays it out, is to get cool, get a boyfriend and lose her virginity.
Never Have I Ever may not sound particularly unique: Devi is figuring out how deep her Indian roots go and where the American in her starts; she’s looking for love, for romance and a little bit of sexual gratification; she’s trying to find herself amidst the loss, the weirdness and the endless possibilities. So what exactly makes this series so endearing?
Devi is the kind of protagonist that gets on your nerves because she likes to play the victim—there is even one moment when she screams, “My shit is bigger than your shit!” when her friends come to her for comfort on their own newly-discovered skeletons. But no matter how many times she lashes out, you want to watch her figure things out and put her life back together.
Fabiola and Eleanor are understanding sidekicks, forgiving and strong in their own right. They aren’t our main character, but we are given enough screen time with them to know what they’re going through and to form a relationship with them. If you didn’t have them then, you’d wish you had them beside you in high school.
The boys, of course, are a big part of the story as well. There is Paxton (Darren Barnet) and Ben (Jaren Lewison), the hot athlete and the intelligent rich guy, respectively. Paxton is beloved by Devi, Ben is loathed…you probably know how this will go.
Then there are, in my opinion, the true gems of the series: mother Nalini (Poorna Jagannathan) and cousin Kamala (Richa Moorjani). They are the epitome of how strong a woman can be. Nalini bounces back and becomes the family head when her husband passes away; Kamala is beauty and intelligence, is respectful of tradition yet still her own person.
The friendships that we are introduced to and form throughout Never Have I Ever are somewhat a breath of fresh air. Three girls figuring out love in all its forms is something worthy of attention. The boys that seem to have everything figured out and finally reveal their own vulnerabilities are boys that a new generation can look up to.
But while I know that friendship (and even romance) is a big part of the series, it’s really the bond between Devi, Nalini and Kamala that hit home. These three women help each other throughout tragedy, battle it out in more ways than one and yet still come together at the end of it. They are the definition of a work in progress, or the sum being greater than its parts, of the need to lean on someone when times get rough.
The perfect balance of improbability and possibility
There are some really strange moments in Never Have I Ever that will keep you on your toes. From Eleanor’s family revelation and Fabiola’s sexual discovery, to Devi’s outspoken take on virginity, boys and booze—but, together, they make a pretty great story.
And then, of course, there is the romance. It’s a story we’ve all heard before: two teenagers who rank differently on the social ladder who find common ground, two teenagers whose loathing of each other starts to resemble appreciation and attraction. But it’s this kind of improbability and possibility that we all fall for time and time again (no matter how jaded the years have made us).
Never Have I Ever is a quick watch, something you can spend one afternoon starting and completing. You’ll get into the story, into the characters, their relationships and their struggles. It’s light and fairly simple, the drama doesn’t drag on but it is effective. So what are you waiting for? Well, I’m waiting for season two.
Never Have I Ever is now streaming on Netflix.
Art Alexandra Lara