April 27, 2020
Warning: Spoilers ahead. Never Have I Ever’s first ten-episode season premiered Monday on Netflix.
In the first minute of Never Have I Ever, protagonist Devi Vishwakumar (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) asks the gods, “And lastly, most importantly, I’d really really like a boyfriend.” She qualifies, “But not some nerd from my AP classes...I just want a stone-cold hottie who can rock me all night.”
When I saw the first-look trailer for the show, which previewed this very scene, I had a sinking feeling: oh no, not another rom-com.
Thankfully, I stood corrected quickly — this show isn't one you’ve seen before.
The story — on the surface — seems like all the subplots revolve around men: it’s about Devi missing her dead father, or Devi’s mom missing her husband, or Devi chasing high school hottie Paxton Hall-Yoshida (Darren Barnet), or Devi fighting with academic arch-nemesis Ben Gross (Jaren Lewison), or her cousin Kamala (Richa Moorjani) figuring out how to date or say no to an arranged marriage. But when you dig below the surface, Never Have I Ever is really about the women finding their way in the world.
“I saw the casting call that Mindy Kaling put out originally. It just said ‘Indian girl in her mid-20s with an Indian accent.’ It wasn’t necessarily that that excited me — what excited me was that it was a project created by Mindy Kaling that had not one, but three, leading Indian characters,” pointed out Moorjani, who plays Devi’s straight-from-India cousin Kamala, who’s getting her Ph.D. at Caltech in biology.
The women of Never Have I Ever are badasses who don’t abide by society’s expectations. They learn to be comfortable in their skin and are messy. What makes these women so incredible is that they’re not defined by the men in their lives, they’re not defined by cultural or traditional expectations, and they certainly aren’t defined by their gender.
First, let’s talk about the men. The women in Mindy Kaling’s latest production might sometimes pine for them, or enjoy the freedom of dating, or the butterflies of a first kiss, but they are just as comfortable being alone.