There’s something so satisfying and heart-warming about a high-school rom-com, and Netflix seldom leaves us without one for very long. Not long after the release of the warm and fuzzy second installment of To All The Boys, the streaming service has gifted us with another quirky coming-of-age story, this time in the form of a 30-minute series.
Never Have I Ever substitutes the Korean-American heroine of To All The Boys with first-generation Indian protagonist, Devi Vishwakumar, (played by Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) who displays not only all of the angst and confusion that comes with being a teenage girl, but also with the experience of growing up in an immigrant family and having to navigate her identity as both Indian and American.
Devi is a normal teenage girl – She starts the school year off wanting a boyfriend, and praying to the gods for her arm hair to thin out – but she’s also grappling with the recent loss of her father. Fortunately, she’s supported by two quirky best friends, Eleanor (Ramona Young) and Fabiola (Lee Rodriguez), though which of the two is dorkier is hard to say. She also has a nemesis, and of course a massive crush on the school’s star athlete (The show really didn’t skip a beat with the genre).
Full disclosure, it can seem a little hard to get into this show, but push through! The first couple of episodes start pretty slow, with many of the characters feeling trite, or over-exaggerated in their awkwardness, but at some point, without realising it, one can easily become very invested in their personal growth. One of the most enjoyable episodes sees a change of perspective (and guest celebrity narrator!) and allows the viewer a glimpse into the life of Devi’s academic rival, Ben Gross (Jarin Lewison). This surprise switch throws a juicy spanner in the works by immediately altering our feelings towards the character.
One of the weirder aspects of Never Have I Ever is the fact that the entire thing (apart from episode six) is narrated by tennis legend John McEnroe, who many of the show’s target audience probably have never even heard of. The reason for this decision is explained (briefly) in the show, but it never really feels like enough to justify having someone who very obviously is not a skilled voice actor, or even directly related to the story, to narrate so very much of it.
McEnroe more than just tells the story, he also explains much of what Devi is feeling– unnecessary since Ramakrishnan performs the role and all its visceral rage, confusion and pain superbly without help from a disembodied and grating voice. His constant presence is jarring and, in my opinion, he should have stuck to tennis.
Noisy narrator aside, by the end of the first season, Never Have I Ever, like To All The Boys and the Twilight saga, will have viewers on the fence about which team they’re on in this teenage love triangle (I’ll be shamelessly donning my team Paxton T-shirt until season 2). This show, with its sub-plots, moments of sadness or rage and hilarious awkwardness is the full package.
Netflix has once again given strong, passionate voices to populations not often portrayed in Hollywood productions. It celebrates diversity and inclusivity, and the chaotic, messy experiences that we all, as human beings regardless of colour, gender, geography or sexual orientation, have to work through. Never Have I Ever will dig its way into your heart, and with its short episodes, its extremely easy to binge the entire season in one or two sittings and not even feel guilty about it.
Essential Millennial Rating: 4 out of 5 avocados