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Netflix's 'Never Have I Ever' Gets The University Dilemma Right

'Never Have I Ever' season 4 is currently streaming on Netflix.

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After another tumultuous year of Devi’s misadventures at Sherman Oaks High, Never Have I Ever has officially bid goodbye to the Netflix screens. Whether or not we will have a spin-off is a question yet to be answered, but with no cliffhangers to hook on, we’re left with a satisfied appetite for the coming-of-age teen drama. Boy trouble? Check. Academic hiccups? Check. Identity crisis? Check. 

'Never Have I Ever' season 4 is currently streaming on Netflix.

Devi in a still from 'Never Have I Ever.'

(Photo Courtesy: Netflix)

The fourth and final season of the wildly popular series dropped recently on Netflix, and as the protagonist Devi Vishwakumar’s favourite Meghan Thee Stallion said, 'it’s lookin' paid and pretty'.

Featuring Maitreyi Ramakrishnan (Devi), Poorna Jagannathan (Nalini), Darren Barnet (Paxton), Jaren Lewison (Ben), Ramona Young (Eleanor), Lee Rodrigues (Fabiola) and Richa Moorjani (Kamala) in lead roles, the show has managed to strike a chord with viewers all over the world with its almost realistic portrayal of a Hindu family in America, overachieving high-schoolers and teens in their sexuality-exploring phase, breaking stereotypes along the way.

Talk of Devi being sex-essful, subverting the trope of a nerdy brown girl trying to prove herself in a predominantly white school, just digging into books. Or touching upon the curve of Indian widows moving on, with the last montage showing Nalini removing her marital thali, a gold necklace Hindu women wear after marriage, as she respectfully closes one chapter of her life and moves on to another.  

'Never Have I Ever' season 4 is currently streaming on Netflix.

Devi and Ben in a still from the show. 

(Photo Courtesy: Netflix)

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But as most teen dramas focus on the high-school era of protagonists, the end generally being glimpses from the graduation ceremony or prom night, we seldom see makers answering the all-important question: what now? The need to figure out the “what next” dubiety consumes most of the last two years of students, and the fear of what lies ahead makes even the ever-confident ones waver. Because, how can 18-year-olds make the seemingly most critical decision of their lives at an age when the biggest problem is a breakout on the chin? Thankfully, Never Have I Ever gives a comforting nod that says, you’re not alone. 

From pre-college jitters to finding one’s identity in the process, the show covers various facets of the university dilemma, a milestone that is usually marked in bold and red on the five-year plan. 

'Never Have I Ever' season 4 is currently streaming on Netflix.

Devi and Eleanor in a still from 'Never Have I Ever.'

(Photo Courtesy: Netflix)

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At the beginning of the show, we see Paxton FaceTiming his best friend Trent from his ASU dorm, where we get a peek into his life as a college fresher. While he was the most-popular hotshot at Sherman Oaks- the life of every party- he feels out of place at the university rave. Two weeks into the curriculum, he drops out. Not used to being just ‘someone’, with his attempts at mingling with his peers not being very successful, he rushes back to his safe space: his high school. Though this decision did not help with his feelings of being left out, Paxton tries to douse the guilt by returning to his old routine as a (non) high-schooler. 

A survey by College Atlas reported that nearly one-third of college students drop out in or after their first year due to anxiety and loneliness.

I remember, back in 2019, when I was a fresher at Delhi University, I had no friends till almost three months into my honours program. The constant thoughts of isolation, homesickness and an urge to go back to comfort nagged at me every second. But do we let those intrusive thoughts win? Never Have I Ever explores what happens when we do.

Add impostor syndrome to the mix, and the idea of the perfect college life we’ve dreamt of all our lives comes crashing down. 

Back in Los Angeles, Paxton repeatedly checks his email reminders from ASU on his phone, which is generally followed by a sigh from his end. But even as the year goes by, he does not unsubscribe from the mailing list. Call it FOMO or the last remaining thread that he wanted to hang by so as to remain connected to his campus, Paxton’s hate-love relationship with his college life is apparent throughout the series. Even though he wanted to experience the university that he got into last season with a lot of hard work, he was torn between choosing to go back to the daunting space or staying in his bubble. 

'Never Have I Ever' season 4 is currently streaming on Netflix.

Paxton and Devi from the final season of 'Never Have I Ever.'

(Photo Courtesy: Netflix)

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The story of Devi’s senior and idol Blair Kwan, the perfect top-performing student at Sherman Oaks who got into Princeton through early admissions, gives us an insight into the concept of high school burnout. While Devi’s introduction of Blair built an image of a Rory Gilmore-esque valedictorian, the reality was far from the truth. Surprisingly, the go-getting hustler that Kwan was, flunked out of Princeton in her very first semester. When Devi found out that the Blair she wanted to follow in the footsteps of was working as a bartender at the university, she struggled to come to terms with the fact. As she recounted how high school burnout left her feeling overwhelmed to the point that she decided to ‘make the most’ out of college, we hear that Kwan was led astray with partying and neglecting her academics. 

The pressure of getting into a prestigious university right after high school makes students dedicate themselves to countless hours of studying, taking extra extra-curriculars and leaving little to no time for personal or social life. The show dips its toes into this catch-22 situation.

While for some, this may lead to depression, insomnia and demotivation, other burnt-out students try to make up for the lost time after school, often choosing the road not to be taken. Blair Kwan narrates that between losing the top spot in college, where every admit had been an excellent student back at their school and getting newly-found freedom away from strict parents in a new city, it’s easy to get distracted. 

'Never Have I Ever' season 4 is currently streaming on Netflix.

The character of Blaire Kwan was introduced in the final season. 

(Photo Courtesy: Netflix)

While the series cleverly delves into the new college experience, which is often scary and intimidating, it does not brush off the pre-uni anxieties. As the brainy smart Ben takes a tour to Columbia University, we find him unnerved by the uber-woke undergrads when he tries to engage in a conversation about consumerism. Later, Devi asks him not to worry too much, as college students casually use big words to cover up their own insecurities. Rings a bell, does it not?

Another thing that stayed with me was how the show focused on the precedence of passionate learning over high academic achievements.

Devi, the Sherman Oaks scholar who topped every activity she participated in was deferred by Princeton during early admissions while Fabiola, the robotics geek, got in. On the other hand, Eleanor, the performing arts enthusiast, chose early graduation to kickstart her acting career when she was rejected at Julliard. We come to a solid question through this: how important is a formal academic education in the ultimate real-world scenario? Never Have I Ever leaves it up to the viewers. When there’s no one way to succeed, how can there be just one explanation for the to-college-or-not-to-college debate?

(The author is a '22 graduate from Lady Shri Ram College for Women and is currently working as a content marketer)

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Topics:  Never Have I Ever  

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