Never Have I Ever
Last season, viewers were pleasantly surprised to find that the sixth installment of Never Have I Ever featured guest star Andy Samberg stepping in for John McEnroe in one episode to narrate the show from Ben’s perspective, in an unexpected and cute play on the show’s narration structure. Following in that tradition, this season was also slated to have a surprise voiceover cameo for an episode, but that surprise was ruined in two ways when it was revealed that Chrissy Teigen’s planned role had been scrapped. The replacement guest star was so under wraps that even those of us who got early access to the season didn’t know who it would be until the full season dropped. No, really, I’m writing this on the show’s release day — I promised my editor I’d have it in by the end of the day!
Fresh off the heels of the shocking car accident that ended the previous episode, this Paxton-centric episode opens with the voice of none other than model, activist, and designer Gigi Hadid. Hadid tells us that as someone who is also conventionally attractive, she relates to Paxton’s feelings of being boxed into the “beautiful airhead” stereotype. Darren Barnett is a magnetic onscreen presence who will undoubtedly have a successful career in Hollywood, but it truly never gets less jarring to see a 30-year-old playing a high schooler. What is this? Riverdale? Grease?
Already sporting a broken arm from the car accident, Paxton has insult added to injury when his school counselor informs him that he no longer qualifies for any swim scholarships. Since he’s not particularly wealthy either, she suggests a community college as his best chance for being able to go to college. Back at home, his parents tell him that he shouldn’t push himself too hard to get into university and that they would be perfectly happy with him staying home and taking over his dad’s shop. Though it’s well intentioned on their part, Paxton is hurt by the fact that even his parents severely underestimate him and doubt his intelligence.
Determined to prove everyone around him wrong, Paxton enlists Devi to help him get into college, informing her that she owes him one (true) after cheating on him and indirectly causing the car accident that ruined his plans for the future. Initially he forces her to just do all of his work for him as punishment, but when that doesn’t turn out to be as fulfilling of a revenge fantasy as he expected it to be (and after his little sister yells at him for taking advantage of Devi), he asks Devi to help him succeed on his own instead.
When Paxton visits his Japanese grandfather in a retirement home, he laments about how he doesn’t believe in himself. His grandfather seems to believe in him more than anyone else in his life, other than Devi, and it gives Paxton a renewed sense of purpose. After a great deal of determination, emotional turmoil, and one humiliatingly public panic attack, he pulls it together and earns his first B on a history test.
There are no side stories in this episode; the sole focus of the show is how Paxton feels being seen by everybody in his school but feeling understood by no one, not even his closest friends. That focus results in a healthy mixture of heartfelt scenes, like the one between Paxton and his grandfather, and laugh-out-loud moments, like when Paxton’s best friend tells him he lost his edge ever since Devi cheated on him with “that Young Sheldon–looking dude,” referring (pretty accurately) to Ben. There’s even a hilarious interaction between Andy Samberg’s and Gigi Hadid’s voiceover roles, a callback to last season’s Ben-centered episode. But the scene that made me laugh the most was when Devi tutors Paxton. Her mom comes in and yells at them for sitting too close to each other, and shortly after, her grandma comes in and politely asks if she can guess Paxton’s ethnicity. This exact interaction, beat by beat, happened to me in high school, and I’m sure many other Indian kids with overbearing mothers and overenthusiastic grandmothers will agree.
Devi and Paxton’s chemistry far outmatches any other duo in the show, so the dialogue between them feels extremely natural. Though they function platonically in this episode, their lingering stares and tense silences hint that their romance may not be over just yet.
Never Have I Ever’s narration is one of its standout features, and this continuation of the celebrity-cameo-takeover episode makes it even more so. On top of that, “… Opened a Textbook” gives depth to a character who, in season one, was mostly just seen as eye candy, and finds a good reason to keep him in Devi’s orbit after the cheating fiasco. It’s a joyful little detour that also points one of the show’s central pairings in an intriguing new direction.