Anyone who's ever watched Mindy Kaling's wonderful romantic comedy television show, The Mindy Project, knows the writer/actress/director/producer has a soft spot for the genre. Recently, after adapting the classic romance film Four Weddings and a Funeral for a Hulu series, Kaling and co-creator Lang Fischer set their sights on YA television with a new Netflix show, Never Have I Ever—and they knocked it out of the park.
Never Have I Ever follows Devi Vishwakumar (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan), a nerdy Indian American teen. The show was released on April 27, and it was an instant hit, with a 97% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Critics and audiences alike were charmed by the show's star, excellent supporting characters and surprising emotional depth. And of course Kaling gives us a pitch-perfect portrayal of modern teen life, complete with a TikTok cold open.
(Note: Spoiler alerts ahead, though they're covered within the early moments of the first episode.)
The show opens with a devastating loss—the sudden death of Devi's father. Soon after, Devi inexplicably loses the ability to use her legs. She spends the rest of her freshman year in a wheelchair, then regains the ability to walk as curiously as she lost it.
Though the initial shock has passed, Devi is still dealing with her grief. And she's come up with a plan to make her life better: Lose her virginity to the hottest guy at school.
If this sounds like a pretty different setup from your average teen rom-com, that's because it is. For one thing, it features an Indian girl in the lead role, something which is almost never seen outside of Bollywood movies. And even better, the fact that she's Indian is an essential part of her character, but it's far from her only trait.
As 18-year-old Indian American Ipsha Pandey, cofounder of the South Asian Instagram page @raaydedesi told TeenVogue, “[Devi’s] race is not the center of the comedy in the show like it has been in the case of Baljeet from Phineas and Ferb or Raj from Big Bang Theory. While she is a ‘nerd,’ she’s a breath of fresh air [from portrayals] where these characters are loved by the audience out of pity. Instead, she’s daring, sarcastic, and kind: all traits that make you want to fall in love with her.”
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The show also excels in its quest to go beyond traditional teen rom-com tropes and deal with other, sadder emotions, namely grief. Devi's refusal to come to terms with her father's death is affecting her choices, and later on, her ability to be there for her friends, who are dealing with pains of their own.
Of course, this show is still a romantic comedy at heart, and it's filled with laugh-out-loud scenes, thanks to Kaling's masterful ability to create hilarious, cringe-worthy moments (see: The Office). It's a skill that's right at home in a teen comedy, and people are loving it. After all, in the midst of quarantine, a bingeworthy teen rom-com is just what we needed.
Feature image courtesy of Netflix.