Television Review: “Never Have I Ever” — A Groundbreaking TV Comedy

By Sarah Osman

We have the satisfying conclusion to a series that proved episodic dramas can — in fact, should — grow in depth past their first season.

Maitreyi Ramakrishnan and Jaren Lewison in Never Have I Ever. Photo: courtesy Of Netflix

When I reviewed Never Have I Ever‘s first season, I noted that the Netflix series suffered from an identity crisis. The show was undeniably charming, but it didn’t know what kind of high school drama it wanted to be. However, like most good students, Never Have I Ever became more sure of itself over time. As maturity set in, each season became better than the last. Now, with season four, the high school adventures of Devi Vishwakumar (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) have come to an end. It’s been a long journey for Devi, but the final season does her justice, hitting all the right notes. Maybe we’ll even get a spin-off revolving around her antics in university. But, for now, we have the satisfying conclusion to a series that proved episodic dramas can — in fact, should — grow in depth past their first season.

When we last left Devi, she was about to lose her virginity to her enemy/former boyfriend Ben (Jaren Lewison). The opening scene is the two of them in bed, awkwardly staring at the ceiling — a spot-on depiction of high school sex that made me laugh out loud. I laughed even harder when Devi’s friends ask if she had “euphoria” sex, which involves multiple positions. Never Have I Ever had its share of unbelievable moments, but scenes and dialogue like these  made it one of the more realistic high school series around. Few captured the sheer embarrassment that comes with your teen years, or felt confident enough to subtly mock the absurdity of other teen dramas.

Being the horndog she is, Devi gets a new boyfriend: bad boy Ethan (Michael Cimino). Best known for playing the sweet and sensitive Victor in Love Victor, Cimino does a 180 take on Ethan, proving his enormous talent as a comedic actor. He brilliantly embodies the smarmy attitude of a high school bad boy. In one scene, he casually tells Devi he’ll see her at lunch, where he’ll do a skateboard trick just for her. Devi swoons. Once again I lost it, because something like this happened for me and my high school friends.

Devi isn’t the only member of the Vishwakumar family who finds love. Her grandma Pati (Ranjita Chakravarty) has a new man in her life, Len (Jeff Garlin) who, much to the surprise of her family, is white. To me, this turn came off as an unnecessary plot line: Len is a sweet character, but he doesn’t add much and unfortunately his presence becomes the central concern for Kamala (Richa Morrjani), who has had far more interesting storylines in the past. A better development: Devi’s mother Nalini (Poorna Jagannathan)’s new man challenges her in a way previous amours have not. New light is shed on this character, which brings her arc to a pleasant close.

Another plotline that doesn’t quite work out is Paxton’s (Darren Barnet). After realizing Arizona State University isn’t for him, he returns as the high school’s assistant swim coach. Watching adult characters go back to their adolescent haunts always makes me uncomfortable. The writers deal with the fact that Paxton is no longer the big man on campus, but it still feels like they threw his return in to keep Paxton a part of the fourth season. I would have preferred to see the guy either struggle through college, or see him pop up from time to time at the occasional high school party. Paxton’s narrative strand felt pretty well wrapped up at the end of season three. Seeing Barnet’s beautiful face is always welcome, but this is not how I wanted this character to finish up.

The beating heart of the series remained where it should be, between Devi and her two besties, Fabiola (Lee Rodrgiuez) and Eleanor (Ramona Wong). The trio offers fresh proof of a venerable truth: who you were in high school isn’t necessarily who you will be for the rest of your life. Watching the three mature was endearing, but also bittersweet. It is hard to accept that their story has concluded, now that we have got to know them so well. Of course, that feeling is proof that Never Have I Ever knew something important: discovering who you are takes time. The series gave its major characters the time they needed to grow, and that made it a groundbreaking TV comedy.

Sarah Mina Osman is a writer residing in Wilmington, NC. In addition to writing for the Arts Fuse, she has written for Watercooler HQ, Huffington Post, HelloGiggles, Young Hollywood, and Matador Network, among other sites. Her work was included in the anthology Fury: Women’s Lived Experiences in the Trump Era. She is currently a first year fiction MFA candidate at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. When she’s not writing, she’s dancing, watching movies, traveling, or eating. She has a deep appreciation for sloths and tacos. You can keep up with her on Twitter and Instagram: @SarahMinaOsman

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