Never Have I Ever Season 2 review: Bolder, wackier plot twists with a tone of urgency around race and identity

Written By: Pallabi Dey Purkayastha WION Web Team
New Delhi Published: Jul 14, 2021, 06:38 PM(IST)

'Never Have I Ever Season 2' has everything in it: from racism to LGBTQIA rights. And that proves to be a little problematic for the show Photograph:( Instagram )

Story highlights

'Never Have I Ever' Season 2 is co-created by Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher. The second season features Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Poorna Jagannathan, Darren Barnet, Ramona Young, Lee Rodriguez, Richa Moorjani, Jaren Lewison, John McEnroe, Sendhil Ramamurthy and Common in crucial roles. 

Do you know what it means to ‘Devi’d it up?’ Well, according to co-creators Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher’s army of writers, it is a broth of utter teenage-triggered mess and lack of mature decision-making skills on the part of, well, the protagonist— last year’s breakout star Maitreyi Ramakrishnan as Devi.

“Hey, that’s how we hotheads do,” character of a narrator John McEnroe, former Tennis star notorious for his on-court theatrics, justifies. After his stint and subsequent success as the debut season’s hilarious narrator, it is only logical—and smart on the part of the makers—to have him reprise his role as Devi’s manly inner voice/silent (judgmental) spectator. 

Devi doing Devi things

The last time we saw Devi and her arch rival Ben Gross, a cocky Jewish genius who wouldn’t stop bragging about his connections: “We use Fiji Water only because my father reps Aniston”; they were in each other’s mouths in the front seat of his car.

Does it sound like one of those clichéd tropes wherein a kiss materialises into a full-blown romance? Not so soon. Not in emotionally volatile and quick-tempered Devi’s watch.

ben's so blushy!

After her always well turned-up therapist (Niecy Nash) suggests she should choose between her new boo Ben and the man-child whose abs she has been drooling over even before he knew how to work out, Paxton-Hall Yoshida, through introspection and truthfulness towards her feelings.

Devi takes that advise into a bottle and does a 180 degree flip—she must now date both the boys. Yes, the season starts with Devi dating both the guys—“Ben gets her smart side and Paxton gets her horny side”—before it all gets blown up in sky by a car. Quite literally!

Many rage-filled, jealousy-driven, stupidity-induced moons later, we get to this 10-part season’s finale—the classic 'Big School Dance' climax and the impending grand gesture of love, because ‘that’s how love goes’ in teen dramas… or not. 

Paxton does hotness so good

If we haven’t said this already, Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher deserve a standing ovation and their own custom-made tiaras for just daring to present an Indian-American teen in their ambitious project for a platform that is as huge as Netflix.

And to an audience that has very little prep in maneuvering a brown, angry, deeply flawed character navigating—but not restricted to—her sexuality while trying to fit in with the dominant populace and making half-hearted efforts to embrace her Indian roots.

What made her and this series such a wicked success, you may ask. The answer lies in the makers’ choice to take a detour from the usual little two-goody shoes character arch and talk raw, real teen angst through a marginalised group in an otherwise white society.  

It comes as a relief, but not that big a surprise, that Kaling and Fisher inculcate important social dialogues—around stigma and stereotypes attached to the teen queer community—and their earnest efforts in developing undertones dedicated to exposing racial slurs and cultural appropriation of minority ethnic communities in America that is rampant even to this moment.

Paxton giving a presentation on his grandfather living in Japanese internment camps was one history lesson that lands well, although it could have been explored further.

Eleanor, Devi and Fabiola are a bunch of teenage girls in 'NHIE' series

But, regardless of the seriousness of the subtexts, ‘Never Have I Ever Season 2’ feels overbearing because of  the sheer fact that it crams the narrative with social and cultural issues way too many. What is it that the show is trying to achieve—Is it the blatant sexism at work that Kamala faces? Indians uprooting themselves and heading back home for a sense of belonging?

Fabiola’s desperate move to be seen and heard as a teenage lesbian? Or is it the patriarchal mindset that the hot fiancé cannot seem to shun—“keep your head down and chin up.” Or, is it the casual racism? With its heart at the right place, ‘NHIE S2’ tries to be the agent of change—or, at least, start a dialogue—around what seems like a long chat around the aforementioned glaring issues but at the expense of what?

This series is about Devi and her personable yet outlandish friends Fab and El, her man crush, and that nemesis: but in their attempt to alert the viewers of all that’s needed to be embraced and all that’s bad, we lose sight of Devi’s story, and of her mother, who has just started to explore her sexuality 2.0. Or even Paxton’s sudden but welcome desire to be someone and reach somewhere in life. Too many subplots spoil some plots, and this season is a testament to that. 

The love triangle is hard to look away from

Maitreyi Ramakrishnan takes to Devi like fish to water; no problems there! Just like her freshly pierced nose, Maitreyi’s depiction of ‘the crazy Devi’ is all the 'more gutsier' and the actress has internalized her character’s eccentricities with the precision of a soldier at war. Still selfish, still overtly emotional and very much at loggerheads with those who love her—Maitreyi as Devi is an infectious ball of energy.

Darren Barnett has zero inhibitions about exhibiting his emotionally distant self again for the cameras, and, although the actor’s USP continues to be his hotness, there’s more for you to see in him this time around. The ever-competitive, deeply vain-conceited Ben couldn’t have been portrayed by anyone more aptly than the devilishly charming Jaren Lewison. Eleanor and Fabiola (Ramona Young and Lee Rodriguez) are just as crazy about romance and robots (respectively) and if you are watching both the seasons back to back, you cannot tell one from the other. And that is yet another shortcoming of this show: very little plot progression and character growth in the lives of all these fascinating parallel roles. But, given the format of this show, the diegesis was always supposed to tip-toe around Devi. And, using this logic, we do understand why the other stories live in the shadows. 

The ever amazing Poorna Jagannathan’s Nalini has gone beyond being a yelly Indian mother who likes to grieve her husband’s death (played by Sendhil Ramamurthy) in private. In this season, Nalini crosses some personal and social boundaries when she gets into a relationship with next-door doctor-frenemy Dr. Jackson (Common). Common feels pretty common in the relationship, but Jagannathan totally turns her charm up on this one. Likewise, that new ‘Cara Delevingne eye-browed’ Aneesa Qureshi (Megan Suri) that Netflix’s been promoting so aggressively? She is the human metaphor for casual racism in everyday life –someone calls Devi, Aneesa, and vice versa—and the optimum level of ‘Indianness’ that can be expected out of a foreign export. Given all the hype, Suri had a high-stress job to do; delivers with ease. 

Poorna Jagannathan's character has grown by leaps and bounds

If John McEnroe’s nonchalant yet hilarious narration of an ‘Indian kid’ cracked you up in season one, then you’re in for a treat. The man does a pretty darn excellent job in blowing his own trumpet and narrating Devi’s story—all scripted, of course. “If it wasn’t obvious before, these two girls are both virgins,” McEnroe quips while re-introducing Fab and El. As for the cheating and chasing? The legend’s comic timing is class apart when he says these in his deep-set voice: “I don’t condone cheating, but this nerd’s playing doubles like a pro,” and “Devi’s truly the Usain Bolt of c*ckblocking.”The series plays by its strengths—sexual innuendoes, witty one-liners and John McEnroe. Fair enough. 

Yes, ‘Never Have I Ever Season 2’ has taken upon itself to combat socio-cultural issues and make the Indian primary character relatable to Netflix’s multi-region, predominantly white audience all at once. And that is, frankly, quite disappointing. With a public figure of Mindy Kaling's stature serving as its exec-producer —who’s one of the poster children for success abroad among the Indian Diaspora—and a series that is already faring well streaming-wise, this season could have chosen to take any path it wished to tread on, but it chose to cave instead. On that note, it’s such a pity!

'Never have I Ever' Season 2 is streaming on Netflix.

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