Season two of Mindy Kaling’s ‘Never Have I Ever’ continues to uplift the different voices of south Indian women characters through its beloved comedic lens
Most of us would have already binge-watched season two of Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher’s Netflix series Never Have I Ever by now – that’s just how lovable this show is. When was the last time we saw a film or series about a south Indian girl who grapples with tradition and western modernity, without it ending morbidly that is?
The series, narrated by John McEnroe, follows Devi Vishwakumar (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan), a straight-A student at a Sherman Oaks high school in California. She lives with her mother Dr Nalini Vishwakumar (Poorna Jagannathan) and her picture-perfect cousin Kamala Nandiawada (Richa Moorjani). Devi’s father Mohan (Sendhil Ramamurthy) passes away before the events of the series and we not only see a grieving family but also a young teen dealing with the quotidian challenges life throws her way.
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Season one spotlighted Devi’s mission to become popular and to get a boyfriend as if to fill the void of her pain, but the finale left the sophomore in a conundrum of both Ben (Jarred Lewison) and Paxton Yoshida-Hall (Darren Barnett) expressing their feelings for her! Uh-oh, love triangle alert.
However, Never Have I Ever manages to sidestep the tiresome tropes of a love triangle, and we see Devi through a lens that we would not necessarily be comfortable with. It forces us to look at ourselves and acknowledge how much, during our teens, we were more problematic than we like to admit. Ramakrishnan is even more comfortable in her acting skin this time around ultimately buoying the series through her deep performance of a less-than-perfect teen who realises her errors far too late. But we still love Devi — warts, social faux-pas and all.
Brown feminism across generations
The new season also tells the story of different shades of brown feminism across generations. Nalini’s notions of what she must do for her family clash with that of her mother’s, while Devi’s beliefs in expressing her independence varies to those of Kamala. This layered storytelling is convincing, without meandering into parable territory.
Devi’s friendship with Eleanor (Ramona Young) and Eve (Lee Rodriguez) is tested through the episode, by gently addressing toxic relationships, identity and jealousy. It is pleasing that Eleanor and Eve haven’t been put by the wayside; Kaling and Fisher do well to use these characters to their potential giving the series even more dimension, reminding us to hold on to the healthy female friendships in our lives.
The girls’ circle is disrupted by new student Aneesa (Megan Suri), a beautiful, charismatic Indian girl. Suri doles out ingenue with waves of confidence while retaining a sparkling chemistry with Ramakrishnan’s Devi, making her likeable.
In season one, I related more to Devi’s quest for mental peace after a tough time. But in season two, I found myself delving more into Kamala’s story. As she pursues her PhD at CalTech, Kamala is faced with the open chauvinism in STEM, and Never Have I Ever gleefully throws stones at the field’s antiquated gender biases. Audiences will finally see a departure from a usually polished Kamala to a defiant woman who learns to stand up for her future and rights. Through this, Kamala learns more about what she wants and deserves from a future partner; it is a delight to see her exchanges with Prashant (Rushi Kota) steer this.
As usual, Jagannathan tackles Nalini’s evolution with grace and biting humour. While season one Nalini’s character vehicle was propelled by grief, her season two persona spoke to moving on. We last saw Nalini contemplate moving her family to India for a better support system for herself and Devi, and this storyline breathes new life into a done-to-death topic of what ‘home’ really means. Then there’s Nalini’s banter with the charming Dr Chris Jackson (Common), a rival dermatologist. The palpable chemistry between Common and Jagannathan is worth a watch (also, a moment of respectful silence for the stunning pattu pantsuit Nalini wears in one scene with Dr Jackson).
The thoughtful writing, without unnecessary pomp and circumstance, that went into season two uplifts the ‘desi diaspora’ voice with equal measures of empathy and humour. Never Have I Ever is a time capsule for the entertainment industry as it continues to raise our expectations of south Indian women characters’ arcs on-screen; Mindy Kaling and her cast and crew do a great job of telling a story that is a microcosm of south Indian women today, in a disarmingly honest way that will have you shedding a few tears in some scenes and squealing with joy in others.
The second season of Never Have I Ever is streaming on Netflix