MUCH before Ms Marvel burst into the OTT universe with its characters and sensibilities imbued with South Asian culture, there was Netflix’s Never Have I Ever. It introduced us to a first-generation Indian-American teen’s struggle to balance desi culture and parental expectations with her amorous ambitions. This gave Never Have I Ever a unique voice — making it stand out among the multiple teen dramas streaming on Netflix — as its protagonist, the ill-tempered and fiercely competitive Devi Vishwakumar (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan), embarked on the mission to find a hot boyfriend.
Now, the show is back with its third season. The coming-of-age drama retains its freshness, which can be credited to its writing. This season seems to have a better grasp on Devi’s world and the journey of its characters.
The first two seasons of Never Have I Ever revolved around Devi’s complicated life following the trauma of losing her father. At the beginning of the show, a buoyant Devi shared a detailed strategy with her two best friends, Fabiola (Lee Rodriguez) and Eleanor (Ramona Young), to make the most of their school years. Not yet ready to confront her grief, which had rendered her paralyzed for three months, she found her escape in dreaming of swimming champion Paxton Hall-Yoshida’s (Darren Barnet) sculpted physique.
As Devi determinedly pursued her plan of finding a handsome arm-candy and, eventually, gaining popularity at school, she made a mess of things. But she realised her mistakes and bounced back every time. Or, as her mother Nalini (Poorna Jagannathan) says in Season 3, Devi “persevered”.
Although she loses her cool and pours cold coffee on a boy once, Devi does appear to have a better grip over her emotions in the new season. Could it be because this season starts with Devi walking in slo-mo, holding Paxton’s hand, and finally making it official that she is dating the hottest guy on the campus? Devi is thrilled about making mean popular girls jealous but her insecurities and confusions kick in as they slut-shame her. Still, it’s the matters of her heart that dominate the narrative.
Though mainly focused on Devi, the series has followed the lives of those around her, mainly her mother, cousin Kamala (Richa Moorjani), Fabiola, and Eleanor. The viewers are also familiar with the lives of Devi’s two love interests — her competitor at school Ben (Jaren Lewison) and Paxton. As Devi navigates her emotions and ambitions, we see the arc of supporting characters evolve. Paxton doesn’t dwell on his popularity as he prioritises hard work. Leaving behind his obsession with grade, Ben chooses to relax, albeit occasionally.
Season 3 packs in a few transformative moments for the characters. After realising that she is not ready for marriage, for the first time in her life, Kamala decides to live alone. Nalini learns to let Devi make her choices while stepping in to defend her daughter when needed. This season, however, the show steers away from Nalini’s private life. That’s something the fourth and the final season, scheduled to release next year, will hopefully address.
As it has been the case with the two previous seasons, one of the high points of the show remains tennis legend John McEnroe’s crackling voice-over. He takes a brief break this season as comedian Andy Samberg is once again brought in to narrate an episode of Ben’s life.
Occasional outbursts aside, Devi is now more sure of herself. That’s one of the triumphs of this season — making a teen girl confident in her choices. Her past still haunts her but she is steadily coming to terms with it.