Never Have I Ever
In what’s become her signature chaotic fashion, Devi has once again set into motion a course of events that could have been prevented with just a little bit of emotional regulation. “… Ruined someone’s life” does a phenomenal job of evoking dormant emotions you thought you had left behind in high school, as we watch Devi continue to seethe over the chemistry between Ben and Aneesa. When she asks her therapist what to do, Dr. Ryan suggests maybe letting Aneesa know that Ben is Devi’s ex and therefore off limits, something Devi refuses to do for some irrational teenage reason. Her blood boils even hotter when Aneesa suggests they invite Ben to be a part of their team for a mandatory 24-hour relay at their school, which Devi herself is reluctant to attend, until Paxton tells her that the event is known among students for being hookup central.
Devi, in an attempt to keep Ben and Aneesa from utilizing the “Spurt Yurt,” a soundproof tent constructed with the intention of giving students a discreet space to hook up out of earshot of the school faculty and parents, runs around for the entirety of relay doing everything in her power to keep them apart. It’s the kind of raging hormonal pettiness that feels a little bit too familiar. Watching your ex move on to someone else is painful at any age, but when you’re a teenager it really does feel like the end of the world.
Devi’s antics prove futile when, to her dismay, she sees Ben and Aneesa enter the tent. Infuriated and blinded by her jealousy, Devi makes a quip about Aneesa being anorexic to two white classmates who happen to be nearby. When they inquire about it, Devi doubles down, stating that she has never seen Aneesa eat anything. It takes barely a few hours after her meltdown before Devi sees Aneesa crying. When asked if she’s okay, Aneesa informs Devi that she heard a rumor about herself being anorexic. “It’s just a rumor, right?” Devi responds nervously. No, Aneesa informs her, it’s completely true: Her eating disorder is the reason she had to transfer from her last school to Sherman Oaks High.
It’s a jarring moment, a tonal shift so palpable you can almost taste it in the air between you and your Netflix screen. Not that this show hasn’t proven that it can incorporate serious subjects in emotional and provocative ways. Last season, we watched Devi and her mother grapple with the loss of Devi’s father, Mohan, in an ongoing portrayal of grief as layered, complex, and messy. Devi’s grief continues to drive her bad decisions this season, but now it’s run headlong into Aneesa’s own trauma. It will be intriguing to see not only how the writing team handles Devi’s actions here, but also how they’ll unpack Aneesa’s eating disorder, something that a lot of young people deal with in real life, but is rarer to see depicted in a mainstream young adult sitcom, particularly in an Indian American character.
In Aneesa, the writers seem to be addressing the criticisms of last season regarding their portrayal of Devi, and so far they’re doing it well. Viewer criticism, when received in good faith, should be seen as advice for how to make your story lines and characters more engaging for your target audience. Unlike the show’s protagonist, Aneesa goes against preconceived notions a viewer may have of how an Indian Muslim teenager should be. Aneesa’s eating disorder is a story we never get to see in an Indian protagonist, despite research showing that 25 percent of Indian girls suffer from eating disorders, and instances of certain disorders are higher in Indian communities than white communities.
Fabiola’s B story provides a needed feel-good balance to Devi and Aneesa’s. She is less than thrilled to find out that her girlfriend, Eve, and her mom will both be at the 24-hour relay. Not because of the cliché “my parents can’t find out I’m gay” trope — quite the opposite. Fabiola is afraid that her mother is such an enthusiastic ally that it will come off as problematic. It’s a nice twist on a familiar story beat that is both lighthearted and relevant in a climate where well-meaning allies try to be so inclusive that they come off as infantilizing. As expected, Fab’s anxiety proves to have been for nothing: When Eve meets her mom, the two get along easily. Fabiola’s mom even inspires them to run for Cricket Queens at the school dance, which would subvert the tradition of Cricket King and Queen and make them first queer titleholders in the school’s history.
The combination of Devi’s all-encompassing jealousy, Aneesa’s surprise revelation, and Fabiola’s family struggles set this episode apart in a good way. In 30 minutes, the alternating stories capture a wide range of emotions that teenagers will find relatable, and young adults will find endearing, nostalgic, or emotional. Take your pick.