Never Have I Ever… Watched This New Netflix Show. Actually, I Have.
April 29, 2020
Never have I ever… actually watched a good show released on Netflix in more than one sitting. I’m serious. Mostly. “Never Have I Ever”, created by Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher, is not an exception to this confession. If you need something to binge during quarantine, I’d say this show is pretty binge-able. I laughed. I cringed (a lot). I almost even cried. Netflix released the first season of this brand new young adult “dramedy” series on Monday, April 27, and now it is Tuesday as I am writing this. Kaling’s writing and comedy has always impressed me, from the iconic television sitcom “The Office” to “The Mindy Project”, and her latest work certainly did not disappoint.
Overall, the show was well-written, and I especially enjoyed the narration by John McEnroe, the infamous tennis player, and Andy Samberg, the comedian (for one episode). The show was ample in humor, but there were also lots of underlying tensions and darker themes. While Kaling made sure to endow her characters with many good and endearing qualities, she also did not hesitate to give her characters flaws, the kind that make them human. The trials and tribulations of everyday teenage life combined with cross-cultural conflict and family/friend drama makes the show relatable and enjoyable, and the added comedic effects make it even more so. There were definitely many moments in which I laughed but felt like I would not normally laugh had the comedic timing and delivery of lines not been there. The show took a refreshing spin on classic teen movie tropes, gave the “nerds” actual personalities, addressed family and mental health issues, and even featured Andy Samberg (briefly)! Most importantly (for me at least), this show was the first time I had seen an Indian-American protagonist in an American show. Not only was she Indian, but she was a teenage girl dealing with the things teenage girls grapple with (plus a little more, but we’ll get into that later), like me!
We throw the term “representation” around pretty often these days, especially in conjunction with the phrases “in film” or “in Hollywood”. When people use this phrase, they often allude to its importance. The dialogue surrounding the importance of representation reached a flurry when the film “Crazy Rich Asians” came out about a year and a half ago, but to be quite honest, I did not really consider representation when going to watch the movie for the first time. I had read the book and loved it, and the beautiful colors, clothes, and characters displayed in the trailers and teasers for “Crazy Rich Asians” drew me in initially. However, when my fellow Asian-American friends began raving about the fact that this Western film consisted of an entirely Asian cast and how they felt seen and represented by this fact, I began to realize the impact that the frequently used term “representation” had on people everywhere. With this said, I would like to preface my take on “Never Have I Ever” with this: a well done project in Western media that intentionally or unintentionally depicts different demographics deserves praise beyond just the simple fact that it was casted with actual diversity or the prospect of representation in mind. To clarify, just because writers and directors do not write or cast someone that looks like you in a movie, show, or book does not mean that it isn’t worth watching or your time. On the other hand, when people watch a movie or show that has a protagonist that looks like them, whatever they may be watching takes on a special meaning for them. Representation makes a show special for a person who has never truly seen themself portrayed in Western media properly.
Like I said earlier, watching “Never Have I Ever” was my first time seeing an Indian-American teenage girl being depicted normally in an American show. Perhaps I might venture to say this: never have I ever seen a Western show with someone who actually looks like me as the lead! South Asian characters have graced the screens of American televisions in the past, but they have done so as highly stereotyped side characters like Apu in “The Simpsons” or Baljeet in “Phineas and Ferb”. Devi Vishwakumar, our lovely leading lady, is nothing of the sort. She is more than a one-dimensional caricature. She’s a real person! What?? Crazy, I know, but the show follows Devi’s journey and its many twists and turns through part of her sophomore year of high school as she recovers from her father’s death, stirs up drama, struggles with fitting in, groans over boy problems (or lack thereof), gets in countless arguments with her mom, and tries to figure out who she is as a person. She’s caring, clumsy, bold, awkward, and smart, and she may have her priorities a little bit mixed up, but isn’t that all of us, in some way or another?
I felt seen when I watched “Never Have I Ever”, and I know brown girls out there everywhere did too, but this show is not at all just for one demographic! This show is for everyone! I loved it so much that I am recommending it to you. You’ve probably pillaged everything Netflix has to offer at this point anyway. During the times we are in right now, we all could use a good laugh and a reminder of the importance of family and friends. You can count on “Never Have I Ever” to come through with that and much more. I sure hope to see more of this show in the future!