This review contains minor setup spoilers for Never Have I Ever Season 2
Mindy Kaling’s dramedy Never Have I Ever has returned for its second season. Our ever-so-messy protagonist Devi Vishwakumar (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) now finds herself in a pickle of a love triangle, between Benn (Jaren Lewison) and Paxton (Darren Barnett), while dealing with school and navigating family dynamics at home with her mother, Dr. Nalini Vishwakumar (Poorna Jagannathan), her cousin Kamala (Richa Moorjani), and her grandmother Nirmala (Ranjita Chakravarty). Meanwhile, at school, she has to help her friends Faviola (Lee Rodriguez) and Eleanor (Ramona Young) deal with their own relationship issues while helping new students and fellow Indian-American Aneesa (Megan Suri) adjust to Sherman Oaks.
Never Have I Ever Season 2 does well when it’s focused on Devi’s personal and mental health struggles, and balances out her messiness and heart. Particularly in the second half. Unfortunately, the first half of the season is often unfocused, attempting to introduce and resolve various plot points, and you’re not sure exactly what the main underlying point is. But the show still shines, including in the first half, when it keeps the focus on Devi’s reflection and growth. Ramakrishnan continues to shine in the role as Devi and all the ranges of her personality. She’s an imperfect character who continues to struggle with the lack of her beloved father Mohan (Sendhil Ramamurthy), who passed away before the series started, and balancing out her relationships. The show tries to tackle a lot, and it succeeds when it hones in on the quieter, more nuanced moments for our main protagonist and her supporting cast.
On that note, Aneesa is a delightful and welcome addition. She is another Indian-American student, and also a Muslim one, giving some great and oft-unseen representation for American Muslim teenagers. And behold! Her story is not solely connected to her religion! The first season had a plot point referring to Islamophobia in some South Asian circles, and unfortunately did not handle it well, and ended up being Islamophobic in execution. But Aneesa seems to be a course correction for the show on this front, making her a fully realized and not one-note character, whose experiences shown can be a great representation of Desi Muslims. Her experiences are subtly informed by her identity, but not defined by it, making her a great addition. Suri has fantastic chemistry with the whole cast, and I very much hope she comes back for Season 3 to expand upon Aneesa’s story.
Faviola also has a great story this season. Having come out as queer last season, she now struggles to fit in within the prominent queer group at school and their particular interests, especially as contrasted against her nerdier ones. It’s a great and nuanced portrayal of queer representation that is starting to break more into the mainstream. Eleanor also has her own struggle to deal with in the latter half of the season, which Young plays with her trademark quirky charm, with her friends there to continually support her.
Jagannathan also has great material to work with this season as Nalini, including in her visit to India, and makes the final decision on whether or not to move back, especially after speaking with her mother-in-law Nirmala. But that decision is made early in the season and without the input of Devi, and the show suffers for it. To not have her viewpoint fully considered, even when things still work out for her, in such a monumental decision felt cheap, and a letdown from the mother-daughter breakthrough at the end of the first season. But Nalini still has good and meaningful moments with Devi this season, even when their relationship isn’t necessarily the lynchpin as it was in the first. She also has a potential romance with a certain doctor in her practice (Common) that makes for some potential and hilarious awkwardness at home.
Even though the storylines in Never Have I Ever Season 2 have a baseline “good”, with some meaningful discussions and showcasing of difficult topics, it’s undercut by periods of subpar writing. Particularly, the writers have to rely less on pop culture references. Often times it feels like they’ve taken the trending tweets of the day and input them into the show’s dialogue, which becomes clunky, awkward, and inauthentic for these Generation Z characters. Of course, I’m only a millennial (not geriatric though), but even I know the kids aren’t injecting every random celebrity (particularly those from older generations) into these kids’ vernacular. It would likely benefit the writers room to have younger writers, or at least to do more thorough research of how younger generations interact.
And the writing needs to stop being so cyclical. While the characters do make progress in some areas, it feels frustrating to have them deal with the same issues, especially Devi, over and over again. We do understand that some of this is in her personality, but the narrative needs to genuinely push her forward to new things, and that’s where the show works strongest. I believe it does in some aspects, but one aspect that keeps repeating is the love triangle. Even while it makes for some great romantic moments in the season, the repetition of the same issues with these characters is often tiring to watch, especially when watching Ben and Paxton be jerks to her in their own unique ways. But, without giving too much away, Devi does come to value herself before them and before she makes a decision. And that is gratifying to watch.
Overall, Never Have I Ever Season 2 is strongest when it focuses on moving its characters forward, and weakest when it repeats points already made. Devi continues to be a very compelling and messy protagonist that we all want to root for, even when she makes us mad with her trademark bad decisions and mistakes. The supporting cast is great as well, offering many hilarious moments in this high school and family dramedy. There’s still so much more for this great cast of characters to go, even while I hope their journeys are written with more focus in the future.
You can stream the Never Have I Ever Season 2 exclusively on Netflix.
Never Have I Ever Season 2
- Rating - 7.5/107.5/10
Never Have I Ever Season 2 is strongest when it focuses on moving its characters forward, and weakest when it repeats points already made. Devi continues to be a very compelling and messy protagonist that we all want to root for, even when she makes us mad with her trademark bad decisions and mistakes. The supporting cast is great as well, offering many hilarious moments in this high school and family dramedy. There’s still so much more for this great cast of characters to go, even while I hope their journeys are written with more focus in the future.