"Never Have I Ever" returns smarter, funnier and at the mercy of its hormones more than ever

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Salon 15 July, 2021 - 05:24pm 8 views

What happens in Season 1 of Never Have I ever?

Season 1 (2020) No. After her father's death and being confined to a wheelchair for her freshman year, Devi becomes determined to have an exciting sophomore year. She pleads with best friends Eleanor and Fabiola to get boyfriends so that the group becomes cool. wikipedia.orgNever Have I Ever (TV series)

Devi wakes up to texts from both Ben and Paxton, something she never would have imagined for herself just a few weeks prior. The choice to make Devi have two boyfriends is an interesting one. Up until this point, she was a relatively likable, down-to-earth protagonist. Her awkwardness made her accessible because who among us didn’t feel like an outcast at some point in our teenage lives? But Devi’s dual romances do not exist in the gray area of plausible deniability. Her separate involvements with Ben and Paxton aren’t flings or situationships — she refers to both of them as her boyfriend numerous times. She has no wiggle room, no “we never defined anything” excuse to hide behind. She’s openly and proudly a cheater, something both she and her friends readily accept. It’s the first thing she has done that actively invites the viewer to root against her. As she callously alternates between Paxton and Ben, two ostensibly obnoxious characters, you kind of even start to feel bad for them.

Logistically, the writers have put little effort into making Devi’s romantic escapades believable. Her friends explain that no one really pays attention to Devi and therefore no one has noticed that she’s dating two people, something anyone who went to high school in the past 100 years would immediately recognize as unrealistic. High-school kids have a propensity for gossiping, and they’ll find any reason to do it. Why would Devi’s love triangle be exempt from that?

Whether the choice to make her a cheater pays off is up for individual interpretation. It feels completely out of left field, yet all the best television characters are innately complex. Just because Devi does bad things doesn’t make her a bad person. She is, after all, still grieving the recent death of her father. And besides, there’s something uniquely refreshing about seeing a teenage Indian girl be the object of desire of two attractive love interests. Maybe I’m biased; I thought I was ugly and undesirable until I saw the character of Cece on New Girl when I was 15. Indian women are almost never portrayed as sexually desirable, and when they are, there are often caveats — being a gorgeous model with so much going for her wasn’t enough to prevent Cece from being cheated on by the character she would ultimately marry one season later. I can only imagine what a show like Never Have I Ever would have done for my self-esteem at that age. Yeah, cheating is bad, but it’s still pretty cool to know that a young Indian kid could have the power to break anyone’s heart, let alone two people’s.

The side stories in this episode are compelling, though not quite as much as Devi’s. That being said, this show does an amazing job of fleshing out individual characters beyond their connection to Devi.

Nalini flies to India to look for condos for her and Devi to move into. Upon arriving in her hometown of Chennai, she reconnects with her parents, who are surprisingly apathetic to the fact that their daughter’s husband just died a few months ago. Reluctantly, she meets with her mother-in-law, Nirmala, whom she hasn’t spoken to since Mohan’s death. To her surprise, in her husband’s mother, she finds the emotional support she was seeking in her own parents. She decides then and there that she’s not moving to India and opts to bring Nirmala to America instead.

Fabiola also gets a crisis of her own: She feels left out among her girlfriend Eve’s friends because they’re super in touch with queer culture in a way that she has never been. She fears looking uncool in front of her new partner and attempts to cram queer culture in order to impress her. Eve finally confronts her and, seeing how overwhelmed Fabiola is by her friends, suggests that they hang out one-on-one instead.

As Devi prepares for her family’s move to India, her friends Eleanor and Fabiola offer to throw her a “fancy, intimate going-away soirée” with just them and their romantic partners. When they ask which boyfriend she’ll be bringing, Devi ponders for a minute. Ben is fancier and better at parties, she posits, but Paxton has a fake ID and could buy them alcohol so she decides to invite him. Everything goes according to plan until Eleanor accidentally invites Ben to the party, too. Panicking at the prospect of her two partners finding out about each other, Devi decides to throw a full-on rager while her mom is away and invites everyone she knows, hoping there will be too many people for Ben and Paxton to notice they have the same date.

Unsurprisingly, things blow up in her face at the party when Ben finds out Devi has been cheating on him and confronts Paxton about it. Paxton storms away from Devi and, in his rage, doesn’t notice the car speeding down the road and gets run over. It’s a stunningly abrupt and jaw-dropping moment, the sort of conclusion that leaves you itching to press the “next episode” button just to see how the show can possibly recover.

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