Now that the circuit breaker measures are in place and you’re spending your days at home, you’re probably catching up with all the shows that you’ve missed out on when you didn’t have the time.

But after you’re done catching up, what do you watch? Well, lucky for you and everyone else looking for a great show, Netflix has recently released Never Have I Ever, a binge-worthy show that’s full of all the teenage drama must-haves.

Never Have I Ever (Netflix)

What is it: From the opening scene of Never Have I Ever, it is clear that this isn’t going to be your typical teen romance comedy. Devi (the lead) prays to her shrine of Hindu deities and asks for the opportunity to attend a “party with alcohol and hard drugs” just so she’s able to say she’s rejected them. Then, she asks for her arm hair to thin out because it looks like the “floor of a barber shop”.

Aside from witty dialogue that seems to be plucked straight from the brains of the show — American-Indian comedian Mindy Kaling who also serves as executive producer — the series also displays its willingness to be very Indian, very American, and to celebrate both.

It centres around Devi (played by Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) and how she navigates sophomore year of high school after coming off two major tragedies which she has been labelled by. First, her father dies from a heart attack.

Then, she becomes paralysed from the waist down but it turned out to be a psychosomatic episode because she regains the use of her legs eventually. The kids in school though, are a little less understanding and think she’s faked it.

The judgment by her peers surrounding her tragedies is what contributes to her anxiety and her eagerness to “rebrand” herself and her friends. Top on her list is to find them boyfriends to elevate their nerdy social status, and things take a more serious turn when Devi has eyes on the hot swimmer and intends to pop her cherry with him.

All eyes are on: The hot high school swimmer Paxton Hall-Yoshida (played by Darren Barnet if you’re thinking of hitting up Google). You can also check out his Instagram page and trust us, you’ll scroll. And as Devi’s psychologist exclaimed: “Damn!”

In all seriousness, Canadian-Indian actress Maitreyi Ramakrishnan is a breakout star and steals the scene as Devi with her straight-shootin’ personality, complete with rapid fire dialogue that’s equal parts witty, somewhat awkward (she’s still a teen), and filled with topical pop culture references. As a fan of Mindy, we feel like she’s somehow written herself into the character, or perhaps this is how she would have been as a high school kid.

Is this for real: There have been discussions on whether the show portrayed the Hindu culture and Indian people accurately, and some people feel Mindy hasn’t hit the mark on that. Mindy herself told the New York Times that people were offended by the way Hindu prayers were depicted in the show. So if you’re looking for a show that will break the glass ceiling for Indian representation on mainstream media, dispel stereotypes, and still be culturally accurate, then it seems that it’s too onerous a task for this one show to carry.

For us, what we found jarring was the narrator who seems to serve as Devi’s inner monologue. It’s a plot device that Mindy often employs in her writing and while it’s meant to be funny, it seems more superfluous in this case. The narrator is voiced by American tennis player John McEnroe and he has a tenuous link to the series by virtue of the fact that Devi’s late father is a fan. To quote The Guardian: “McEnroe, for no reason seemingly beyond the fact they could get him, narrates the series.”

What we like: This is a show that, in my opinion, connects with audiences of a wider age range because of how multi-dimensional Devi is. Her high school experiences directly speak to teens and their desire to fit in or be popular, but it’s the woman in her that allows her to go toe-to-toe with the adults in her life; whether it’s her mum, her prettier older cousin, or her therapist.

We all know what that is like, to be a 15-year-old who just wants to be an adult and conduct themselves in a corresponding manner. While it can be cringey, the fact that Devi is intelligent makes up for the gaps in her wisdom instead of her just being a simple teen trying too hard to ‘adult’. And yes, when you’re trying to deal with the grief from losing your father by planning to snag the hot boy in school, it doesn’t feel like a wise move.

To watch or not to watch: Netflix has not been doing us dirty this circuit breaker and the trend continues with this unexpected gem. It’s full of laugh-out-loud moments, great pacing and comedic timing, trademark Mindy humour, and a plethora of racially diverse characters. It’s really the bright spot amid these dark times and I think Singapore is feeling it, too. How else will you explain the fact that it snagged the fourth spot (as of April 30) on Netflix Singapore’s Top 10 list?

Text: Bryan Lim / AsiaOne / April 2020
Additional text: Sally Manik
Images: Netflix Singapore