‘Never Have I Ever’ season 2 review: Mindy Kaling’s coming-of-age dramedy is still charming and even more life-affirming
When the first season of Never Have I Ever debuted on Netflix last year, people expected it to be a raunchy, hilarious teen rom-com with Mindy Kaling’s, who co-created the show with Lang Fisher, DNA all over it — Nora Ephron’s references, an unapologetic female lead, quirky jokes, just to name a few. And while the first season did indeed tick all those boxes, the show proved to be something a bit more different as it went on.
At its core, Never Have I Ever is an honest portrait of grief and a look into the Indian diaspora. Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan), the show’s 15-year-old heroine, lost her dad a year prior, and ever since that tragedy, she’s been struggling to live her life like a normal teenager. She’s angry, sad, and traumatized. But instead of trying to find a way to process and work on her grief, Devi focuses on something else entirely: to be the new popular girl at her school — this means having a hot boyfriend and losing her virginity.
Devi’s goal remains the same in season two, which debuts July 15 on Netflix. She still wants to be cool and have the ideal romantic life. So when she realizes that there are two boys who are into her right now — the rich, lonely nerd Ben (Jaren Lewison) and the hot swimmer Paxton (Darren Barnet), whom Devi has a huge crush on in the first season — she decides to date both of them at the same time, even though her best friends, Fabiola (Lee Rodriguez) and Eleanor (Ramona Young), has made it clear that it might not be a good idea.
Devi being Devi, of course, doesn’t listen. She thinks she could pull it off without ever once thinking of the consequences. The minute she realizes that she’s made a mistake, it’s all a little too late. Devi hurts the only two boys who like her. And throughout the season, Devi keeps repeating the same mistakes and sabotaging her relationships with almost everyone she knows. She pushes away her mom, Nalini (Poorna Jagannathan), when she finds out that she’s been seeing someone. She spreads a hurtful rumor about the new girl at school, Aneesa (Megan Suri). She, once again, abandons her best friends purely for selfish reasons just when they need her the most.
Watching Devi doing and saying the wrong thing over and over again may feel a little frustrating at first — she’s after all the heroine that we’re supposed to root for. But irritating as it is, the season always finds a way to make us understand that the reason Devi keeps screwing up is because she’s still hurting over her father’s death. The show understands deeply that avoiding grief is an exercise in futility, and that the pain that comes from that unresolved loss will find a way to eventually creep onto us and manifest itself into a destructive narcissism.
Devi hurts people not because she simply wants to hurt them, but because she’s consumed by her own pain and doesn’t really know any better. It’s not until she finally opens up and talks about her dad for the first time to her therapist (Niecy Nash) that Devi begins to see everything clearer. “You’re just hurting and you might even be a little depressed. And that’s okay because I can help you through it. You had a big loss, and the hurt that comes from that can come out in surprising ways,” her therapist says to Devi in the season’s penultimate episode.
To those who are ever dealing with loss, Devi’s brief interaction with her therapist is so life-affirming. And so much of what happens in this season is this kind of small moment that a lot of people can resonate with. Kaling and Fisher have created a realistic portrayal of what it’s like to be grieving. What’s even more wonderful about their writing is that even though the subject matters are difficult, never once does the season feel too dark or melodramatic. The jokes are still outrageous and hilarious. The storylines involving the other characters are always entertaining — particularly the subplot centering on Devi’s cousin Kamala (Richa Moorjani) as she’s dealing with sexism becomes a real highlight.
The season still also boasts excellent performances from the cast. Young and Rodriguez, despite not having strong storylines this season, always fill the screen with charms. Jagannathan remains the MVP of the show, displaying vulnerability and tenacity in a realistic way. And Ramakrishnan plays Devi with impeccable comedic timing while at the same time nailing all the emotional beats. It’s a testament to her performance that even when Devi keeps doing repulsive things, we still empathize with her.
Like in its first season, Never Have I Ever season two is warm and charming, with half-hour ten episodes breeze right by. But underneath the sunny aesthetics and all the horny jokes, the show dives even deeper into the emotional core of the story this time around, exploring Devi’s unprocessed grief to show us how damaging it can be. It’s a rare teen rom-com with real heart and emotions.
Season two of Never Have I Ever begins streaming on Netflix July 15.
Photo: Isabella B. Vosmikova/Netflix