Never Have I Ever
What makes the protagonist of Never Have I Ever so lovably frustrating is her propensity for being irresponsible and messy despite the fact that all of her conflicts could very easily be overcome with a little bit of communication with her family, friends, and love interests. That wouldn’t make for interesting TV, though, and it sure as hell wouldn’t accurately depict how stressful high school is for 16-year-olds who have no idea that most of their problems could be worked through with a simple “I” statement or two.
Wasting absolutely no time, season two of Never Have I Ever picks up right where it left off, on a huge love-triangle cliffhanger: Ben AND Paxton are in love with Devi. Which one will she choose, and how much chaos will she cause along the way? Judging by “… been a playa,” Devi’s ready to explore new frontiers in messiness this season.
The episode starts with Nalini breaking up Devi and Ben’s make-out session in his car. On the drive home, Devi’s mom chastises her for being frivolous and sexual so soon after they spread her dad’s ashes at his favorite beach. Devi isn’t paying much attention, though, she’s too busy freaking out over a voicemail that Paxton left for her. John McEnroe’s narration is once again the perfect contrast for Devi’s inner voice, a creative risk that continues paying dividends: The juxtaposition of his chiseled and defined bark explaining trivial things like teenage boy troubles to the audience is an ongoing comedic gold mine.
On her first day back to school post-boy drama, Devi experiences a flurry of emotions seeing Ben and Paxton sit on either side of her (both blissfully unaware of the other’s involvement with Devi). Their teacher Mr. Shapiro, arguably one of the best-written characters in all of television, makes a few racially tone-deaf comments before informing everyone that for their class community service they will be picking up trash, in what feels like a metaphor for Devi’s chaotic life and her measly attempts at trying to maintain some semblance of order.
Devi’s boy troubles are the main theme of the episode, but other conflicts bubble up throughout, hinting at where else this season is going to concentrate its storytelling. Kamala, Devi’s beautiful and brilliant older cousin, starts clinical rotations for her Ph.D. program and finds herself struggling as the only Indian woman in a room full of men who take advantage of her and underestimate her, a story that will ring all too true for immigrant women who came to the States to do graduate school in STEM. And, oh yeah, there’s the family’s looming move to India by the end of the month, something Devi’s mom is doing because she feels as though she does not have an adequate support system in America after her husband passed away. Nalini, in preparation for the move, tries to sell her client roster to an obnoxious and flashy competitor (played by a very charming Common), who begrudgingly offers her 10 percent of her asking price and an eye roll.
The countdown aspect of Nelani and Devi’s move adds an anarchic vibe to Devi’s love-triangle storyline, allowing her to avoid any sort of meaningful consideration of what she’s doing to Ben and Paxton, because what does anything matter if she’s moving to a different country in a few weeks? Maitreyi Ramakrishnan embodies Devi’s precarious blend of youthful exuberance and indiscretion so effortlessly. As she ebbs and flows between Ben and Paxton, the viewer joins her for the entire emotional rollercoaster: Every time she’s convinced Ben is the one she’s meant to be with, so is the audience; when she ping-pongs back to Paxton, we’re right there with her, making a pros and cons list about his abs and disinclination for school. At the conclusion of the episode, Devi’s friends Eleanor and Fabiola beg her to be responsible about how she handles her entanglements with Ben and Paxton, but Devi just smirks mischievously and declares instead that she now has two boyfriends. What self-involved, self-sabotaging teen wouldn’t do the same in her position?