Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, left, Poorna Jagannathan and Richa Moorjani in a scene from “Never Have I Ever.” (Neflix)
Newbury Park High School

Review: Netflix’s ‘Never Have I Ever’ is a complex balance between culture, comedy and grief

The South Asian community was taken by storm when Mindy Kaling announced her Netflix show “Never Have I Ever” in March.

While the trailers made it seem like another high school comedy, the show features Devi Vishwakumar (played by Maitreyi Ramakrishnan), an Indian American female protagonist that is rarely seen in Hollywood. 

I finished watching all 10 episodes in the span of two days, and I have to say that the show strays quite a bit from what the trailers make it out to be.

“Never Have I Ever” has a surprisingly complex plot that deals with grief and family dynamics, all while trying to uphold the high school plot and South Asian representation that it promised. 

I’ll start off by saying that Kaling’s decision to create a show starring an Indian American lead was a much needed step forward for representation, especially among the growing South Asian population in the United States.

However, there are some issues that I take with how Indian culture is portrayed in the show. For example, Vishwakumar’s name is pronounced incorrectly by almost every character.

This is a very common issue that Indian Americans — and all other people with unique names — face. I understand that Kaling may have wanted to show it like that, but the fact that Vishwakumar never corrects anyone shows complacency with the mispronunciation.

In order for representation to be done right, something as simple as a name should be pronounced correctly, so that we can discourage anglicizing names for the sake of making it easier on others.

In episode four, Vishwakumar and her family attend Ganesh Puja, which is an important holiday for most Hindus. Vishwakumar meets up with a friend who goes to college and complains about how Indian the celebration makes her feel.

Her thought process is something that many other Indian Americans feel at some point, due to the confusion of being “not Indian enough” or “too Indian” to fit into American society.

However, her friend responds by saying that going to college made him realize the value of his culture, and he chose to come back to celebrate Ganesh Puja. Instead of taking her friend’s story to heart, Devi decides to blow it off and walks away.

This was a bit of a disappointment to me, as I felt that exploring and learning to appreciate one’s culture would have been a very valuable subplot for Vishwakumar to experience, along with showing audiences the beauty of South Asian traditions.

Where “Never Have I Ever” succeeds is in its darker themes, consisting of the tension between Vishwakumar and her mother and the grief that Vishwakumar feels after her father’s death.

The last episode ties together these themes exceptionally well, in which Vishwakumar and her mother break down in front of each other after arguing and trying to preserve a hard front throughout the season.

This scene is especially poignant, considering that many South Asian families emphasize strength over weakness. This strength was a divisive force between the two of them and it’s definitely something that hits home for a lot of viewers.

Vishwakumar struggled to deal with her father’s passing throughout the season, often trying to suppress it instead of vocalizing her feelings. She used the other problems that she was facing as a way to cover up the real grief that she felt, once again showing the toxicity of being too strong.

The last scene, in which Vishwakumar and her family throws her father’s ashes into the ocean, symbolize that she has finally accepting her grief and saying goodbye to her father, who was a beacon of light in her life. 

Despite some issues, “Never Have I Ever” still turns out to be an enjoyable experience. I wish the show could have delved more into the grief and family problems that Vishwakumar experienced, because it definitely was the most thought-provoking part of the storyline.

“Never Have I Ever” is definitely a bold step forward, and I’m curious to see where Vishwakumar ends up next.