Review: ‘Never Have I Ever’ Season 2 is Riddled with Disappointing Clichés
Never Have I Ever has a love triangle, female rivalry, an annual high school dance, and lots of drama.
‘Never Have I Ever’ Season 2 is Riddled with Disappointing Clichés
(This review contains spoilers)
Never Have I Ever, Netflix’s coming-of-age teen drama is back with its second season, this time with more promise of old-school American high school drama, infused with some classic Indian tongue-in-cheek humour.
The second season has it all: a problematic teenager, female rivalry, a love triangle involving a good guy and the school's bad boy, an annual high school dance, and friendship drama; you name it, and the show has it. That's exactly what makes it painfully cliché to watch.
When Drama Supersedes Trauma
Although Maitreyi Ramakrishnan does a phenomenal job of portraying the character of Devi, her arc only seems to be getting worse. As the second season opens, we see Devi make worse choices, be a bad friend, patronise her mother for developing a new love interest, and be totally self-absorbed during the show.
The first indication of this is from the beginning of the first episode: Devi, who is moving back to India with her mother, is faced with a dilemma before she leaves. Both Paxton (her longtime crush), played by Darren Barnet and Ben (her longtime rival), played by Jaren Lewison, like her, and want to be with her. Unable to make a choice, Devi ends up making possibly the worst one-- she decides to secretly go out with both the boys and plans to flee to India by the time they find out the truth.
Over two seasons, Devi’s maturity and ability to deal with things only seems to be going downhill. Although this is portrayed as a coping mechanism that Devi has adopted due to her father’s untimely demise, it ends up feeling more like a crutch to justify her problematic actions and insert unnecessary drama in the show to give it more flavour. This is because not enough attention is given to the trauma itself and how Devi navigates it. Granted, Devi regularly sees her therapist, but even those interactions fail to provide a strong learning curve for her character. It seems like the writers have deliberately chosen to give more attention to unnecessary high-school drama than uncovering Devi's grief.
If only Devi’s trauma was given the attention it deserved, the audience would not only understand why she did what she did, but also empathise with her character more. Without that, Devi's character only perpetuates the overdone trope of a 'troublemaker', a teen with self-destructive tendencies, who despite having the best intentions at heart, ends up hurting the people she loves.
A Brown Girl With White Girl Problems
Most people call the show stereotypical, owing to the portrayal of arranged marriages and overprotective parents; but I would like to argue that these things are very much a reality in Indian societies even today; being in California’s Sherman Oaks or in a suburb in Mumbai makes no difference. Never Have I Ever made self-deprecating Indian jokes without being offensive or appropriating any cultures, and honestly, I’d take that.
But silly jokes and one or two funny incidents around being an Indian is where the show’s (for lack of a better word) Indian-ness stops. Devi’s problems are this: she has two boys who like her and want to date her, she has to keep choosing between the two boys or her friends, she is worried about who she’ll go to the annual dance with, and lastly (and probably the worst problem), she has to look better than Aneesa, the new Indian girl that has joined her school. Basically, in Season 2, Devi’s storyline falls into a highly common and overdone plot of a high-school drama, and no clichés are spared.
Representation Done Right
There is one thing Never Have I Ever gets right: representation. Right from the main characters to the supporting cast, everyone brings a different background and ethnicity to the table, and the best part is that they are not just limited to these roles. Devi has a Chinese and Mexican best friend, but their ethnicities aren't the only defining point they have. There is a lot more to their characters-- conflict, emotions, depth, that show that the gesture to bring in diversity is not tokenist.
Never Have I Ever Seen So Many Plotlines Abandoned
In season one, Devi’s trauma due to her father’s death and her subsequent paralysis which led to her being in a wheelchair are very important parts of grief that not a lot of shows cover. However, the writers here left the plotline as it is, and even though it was a part of Devi’s past, it wasn't given the attention it deserved.
In the second season, Aneesa’s anorexia is met with a similar fate. Aneesa, played by Megan Suri, a new student, suffers a lot of humiliation when Devi unintentionally lets the whole school know about her eating disorder. Here too, Devi displays a total lack of empathy, and decides to further complicate the situation by going out of her way to hide that she was, in fact, the culprit who spread the word about Aneesa’s anorexia.
Other than this, the ailment in itself is not given the attention it deserves at all, and is, in fact, left hanging midway, adding to the long list of inconclusive plots that the show has.
A Show Best At Providing Comfort
If you’re looking for a perfect weekend binge and a comfort show with teen drama that ends in resolution and reconciliation, Never Have I Ever seems like the perfect fit.
The instances of true friendship between the three girls, a few moments of bonding between Devi and her mother Nalini where they reminisce about the sweet memories they had with her father, mixed together with some classic teen romance will melt your heart. So if you’re looking for a light, easy watch, this show could be it for you; and if viewed from that perspective, it can even end up being a quite wholesome experience. Never Have I Ever perfect comfort show, but that’s all it is.
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