The debut season of Mindy Kaling’s Never Have I Ever was hailed as a trailblazer for invigorating the the staple coming of age high school series with refreshing humour and a sharp sense of nuance. It was lauded further for its diversity, with its story centred around an Indian family and a core friendship group made up exclusively of girls of colour. However, while the show offered heaps of promise, it was weighed down by a protagonist who was often too frustrating to fully sympathise with, and cookie-cutter subplots that never really took off.
Although there’s little to complain about regarding last season’s quality of humour, season two really steps up, turning this teen comedy into a commendable show that just happens to be about teenagers
Season two, however, is a different story. Though her grief over her father’s death lingers in the back of her mind, Devi Vishwakumar (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) has new challenges to deal with. One is a new, far cooler Indian frenemy Aneesa (Megan Suri), while the other is a love triangle with Paxton (Darren Barnet) and Ben (Jaren Lewison) that she attempts to handle by dating both boys at once. Already, there is huge comic potential, and Never Have I Ever relishes it. Although there’s little to complain about regarding last season’s quality of humour, season two really steps up, turning this teen comedy into a commendable show that just happens to be about teenagers. A special mention has to go to Devi’s hyper-woke history teacher Mr. Shapiro (Adam Shapiro), who exists in a league of his own with his out-of-the-box attempts to make history relevant for Gen Z (interpretive dance rather than essays, anyone?).
Devi’s flaws have also been handled with far more care this season. Throughout season one, her supposedly human mistakes amounted to plain cruelty (telling her friends “My shit is bigger than your shit” springs to mind), and instead of sympathising as she suffered the consequences, it was easier to feel like she got what she deserved. Naturally, she doesn’t stop making mistakes this time around, but they’re the human mistakes of a teenager with good intentions, despite her self-absorption at times. For example, though it’s deplorable enough that she’s two-timing Paxton and Ben, she cannot bear to hurt either of their feelings, or to be decisive about who she wants to be with. A mid-season storyline where she accidentally starts an insensitive rumour is handled particularly well, and there isn’t a moment where it’s possible to rejoice over her being suitably punished.
Season one’s subplots were derivative – Devi’s friend Fabiola had a generic, rushed coming out story, her other friend Eleanor dealt with an unreliable mother, and her cousin Kamala faced the prospect of an arranged marriage despite already being in a relationship. Fortunately, virtually every character has an improved, more original subplot this time around. Now dating her first girlfriend, Eve, Fabiola tries to assimilate into the queer community and struggles to hold onto her own identity through it all, both of which are wonderfully realistic, yet less frequently explored scenarios. The same can be said for Eleanor, who enters an unhealthy relationship, and Kamala, who battles casual sexism in her new PhD rotation. By contrast, Paxton’s storyline, where he tries to put more effort into school out of fear of not going to college, is almost a carbon copy of a storyline on another Netflix show (to give full details would involve spoilers). Even then, however, it still valuably fleshes out his character, which was needed for someone for whom having a six pack was a personality trait.
Never Have I Ever is a series that continues to go from strength to strength, and fans will be waiting for season three with great impatience
If there was anywhere where season two of Never Have I Ever goes awry, it’s in the ending, which is guaranteed to divide opinion in the fanbase and leave individual viewers feeling more conflicted than satisfied. In spite of this, it’s not enough to tarnish a season that threatens to be addictive, and is ultimately a big step up from its debut. Never Have I Ever is a series that continues to go from strength to strength, and fans will be waiting for season three with great impatience.