Never Have I Ever Season-Premiere Recap: Performance Anxiety

Never Have I Ever

… lost my virginity/… gotten sweet revenge
Season 4 Episodes 1 and 2
Editor’s Rating 4 stars

Never Have I Ever

… lost my virginity/… gotten sweet revenge
Season 4 Episodes 1 and 2
Editor’s Rating 4 stars
Photo: Courtesy Of Netflix/Courtesy Of Netflix

Welcome back, nerds! Can you believe we’ve made it to our final year at Sherman Oaks High? I don’t feel ready to say good-bye.

Before we jump in, let’s give the series its flowers, shall we? Devi (played pitch-perfectly by Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) remains one of the most dynamic, groundbreaking teen characters on TV in a long time. Horny, tempestuous, and messy as hell, she is allowed to exist in ways that typically haven’t been seen as acceptable for Desi girls, both onscreen and in real life, thanks to societal and cultural norms. As a brown dork who was once a high-school overachiever desperate for life experience — and who never saw anyone who looked like me on TV in my teen years — I’ve grown weirdly attached to this fictional character and her family.

The Vishwakumars have also been such a joy to watch and are arguably the scene-stealing heart of the show. Their comedic chops are off the charts but in a way that feels rooted in truth, rather than pure caricature. Also, when was the last time you saw a sitcom starring a multigenerational family of South Indians? This is pioneering stuff! (I know I sound like a broken record, but I looove this show!) What these women provide in the TV landscape is so special and, honestly, is what I’m saddest about losing. They’ve normalized conversations about family conflict, mental health (often a taboo in South Asian communities), and the death of a loved one without feeling heavy-handed or like a tidy after-school special. Speaking of which, I’m especially curious about how the writers will handle the grief of Devi and her mom, Nalini (played by the sensational, devastatingly cool Poorna Jagannathan), as the show wraps up. How do you conclude a journey that’s never-ending?

As much as I want to delay the show’s inevitable finale for selfish reasons, I think we’re all dying to find out whether Devi ends up with Ben, Paxton, or — gasp — herself. Sure, it feels ridiculous to be so invested in who’s endgame (high-school romances should have short shelf lives), but I do think her choice could say a lot about Devi’s evolution, not to mention it’s a chance to subvert, or play to, rom-com tropes. Plus, so many teen rom-coms are built around singular events of senior year — prom, end-of-year parties, college admissions, etc. — that there are bound to be some major twists, turns, and bumps when it’s all up for grabs. Oooh, okay, now I can’t wait.

So let’s dive into the first episode! Here we are, post-cliffhanger, post-coupon, post-coitus. This season begins minutes — well, hopefully at least minutes — after the previous one ended. Having cashed in on her free-boink voucher, Devi and Ben lie in bed shell-shocked. It’s not that there’s a sense of buyer’s remorse exactly, but there’s sure as hell some awkwardness. They exchange not-so-sweet nothings, and Ben asks if he should call her an Uber (who says chivalry is dead?). Instead, Devi pulls finger guns and boots it out of there. Finger guns. Really, Devi?

She of course debriefs Fabiola and Eleanor on her sexual stats: one orgasm (his), one limb-flailing position, and one admission of “really, really” liking him. But having experienced what was far from “Euphoria sex,” Devi’s convinced that she sucks at it and that Ben was embarrassed for her.

The truth is Ben’s sweating his own performance. Thrown by the fresh notch in his bedpost, Ben dodges texts from Margot and then — following the advice of his new gym buddy, the Dwight Howard — dodges Devi’s invitation to hang, too. Howard says her text reads as too nonchalant, and Ben, unaware that Devi was channeling her inner Kristen Stewart, agrees her cool correspondence could mean only bad news. Howard’s right on one point, though: A good relationship should make you feel at ease and confident. So Ben brushes Devi off by responding with an infuriating “Have a great summer.” Brutal.

Fast-forward three months and Devi’s heading into senior year with style. She inherits some new (used) wheels from her mom and, now that she has lost her virginity, prays for other priorities, namely the fulfillment of her Princeton dreams. Still, she knows she must do her part, which is why she dons her most modest threads and gifts bougie pears to Dr. Keyes in hopes of scoring one of the puritanical teacher’s revered reference letters. It seems like a sure thing until Dr. Keyes finds Devi screaming about Ben’s circumcised dick in the school hallway. Apparently, when it comes to things Mr. Gross cut off (sorry), Margot wasn’t one of them — they’re officially an item — and Devi lashes out at her accordingly. Margot gets caught threatening to kick Devi’s ass, and Principal Grubbs forces her to apologize, albeit half-heartedly. Ben is Sherman Oaks’s Helen of Troy, caught between two warring women.

Devi has an emergency meeting with Dr. Ryan, who says it makes sense that Devi still has feelings for Ben. I mean, c’mon, they were intimate, then he basically abandoned her! Devi goes from denial to tears, admitting she’s hurt, jealous, and questioning her self-worth. Dr. Ryan reminds her that she’s smart, beautiful, and extraordinary: “Why else would I keep seeing you? Girl, you drive me crazy.”

Dr. Ryan also reminds Devi that she’s allowed to be upset at Ben but shouldn’t take it out on his new girlfriend. Still, Devi can’t shake her resentment toward Margot, so Dr. Ryan suggests she write down anything nasty she has to say as a way to express her pettiness harmlessly. The exercise works, and Devi feels compelled to apologize to Margot. Unfortunately, their truce is short-lived when Margot gets a look at Devi’s list of bitchy burns.

Speaking of unsuccessful gestures, Trent’s back at Sherman Oaks and feeling as if he doesn’t measure up to his ambitious girlfriend, Eleanor, who’s perusing brochures for the likes of RADA. Eleanor says if they’re still together, Trent can venture across the pond with her, but all Trent can hear is if. So in an effort to lock things down, he fakes getting shot — by Cupid. Accompanied by a tuba playing “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” Trent gets down on bended knee and asks his beloved “Eleanor Middle Name Wong” to marry him. She declines, so he initiates a preemptive breakup. (Never Have I Ever carries tons of parallels to classic teen TV shows — Mindy Kaling dug deep into the genre while developing the series — and this breakup gave me flashbacks to Dawson’s Creek’s “Promicide” episode, in which Pacey dumps Joey out of his own insecurity. Fellas, don’t punish your partner for shining!)

Ben, realizing his part in what went down between Margot and Devi, apologizes to Devi for ghosting her. He explains that her first time was actually his, too, and he was embarrassed about his own poor performance. (This is such a cute and innocent moment.) He admits that he, like Devi, had hoped they could be something more, but he realizes they just keep hurting each other and both deserve something easy and happy. Instead of pleading her case, Devi accepts his decision.

What she cannot accept, however, is vandalism (or what she later calls “automotive misogyny”). When she finds her car spray-painted with the words stupid bitch, Devi is understandably fuming.

It’s no surprise that Ben’s artsy girlfriend is Devi’s primary suspect. So in the second episode, Devi and Nalini meet with Margot and her smoking-hot dad, Andres (Iván Hernández), in the principal’s office to discuss the alleged hate crime. But Margot has an alibi. While the investigation goes on, Davi is forced to dip deep into her New York trip fund to fix the Subaru. A visit to the Big Apple is never something to miss, but this one has stakes; the kids are heading over to tour colleges in the tristate area, and according to Ms. Warner, campus visits can really spruce up an application.

Devi sees Margot as the destroyer of her senior-year dreams: first Ben, now her trip. Maybe that’s why she’s so encouraging of Eleanor’s new fantasy to hook up with Ethan of the Hot Pocket stoners’ edition. In a perfect moment of dramatic irony, Devi encourages Eleanor to go for it “before some jealous slore steals it from you.”

Devi confronts Ben: How can he stand idly by while Margot is actively (and ALLEGEDLY) hurting her? (This gets to Ben, and he does gently question Margot.) Next, Devi learns her newfound nemesis lied about being in class at the time of the crime, a discovery Devi smugly relays to the principal. But her sweet revenge turns sour when she sees Ethan’s Antichrist-like handwriting on the whiteboard — he did it! As Margot awaits a possible suspension, Devi rushes into Grubbs’s office to clear her nemesis’s name. “I did a boof,” explains our succinct and eloquent queen.

While we’re on the topic of righting wrongs, in the previous episode, we saw Fabiola realize the robotics team is a sausage fest, so this episode has her trying to rectify that. Aneesha points out how it’s not that girls aren’t into robotics; it’s that the team is anti-feminist and full of incels. So as Fab wonders if she has unwittingly been infected with bro-brain, she tries to scout some “STEM-loving ladies.” After hearing about one formerly hopeful recruit’s bad experience with the club, Fab vows she will do whatever she can to change its toxic culture. She also imposes a no-B.O. rule.

Devi tries apologizing to Ben for her false accusation, but he tells her point-blank that Margot doesn’t want them to talk anymore. Ouch. Fed up and furious, Devi threatens Ethan, saying he’d better undo the damage to her car or he’ll experience the wrath of Crazy Devi.

Later that night, Nirmala confesses to her family that she has secretly been dating Len (Jeff Garlin, in his first series role since The Goldbergs), a white sandwich-loving man. Why the secrecy? Nirmala is a proud GMILF, but she felt guilty about moving on from her late husband, who has been gone for 20 years. According to her, respectable widows are single for life. (I can vouch that this mentality is common in the culture; my grandma was a young widow who also never remarried.) Bracing for disownment, she’s pleasantly surprised when, as Kamala had predicted, the whole family is supportive.

Ethan shows up at Devi’s house 13 bucks poorer and with a spray that will remove his handiwork. (New York, here we come!) But with one fix comes another problem: Ethan’s got a kink and it’s … being yelled at by Devi? And despite her best friend’s crush on the bad boy, Devi may actually be into him too. Messy, messy, messy.

Extra Credit

• “Ben Gross?”

• On a similar note, does it seem like there are more digs at Ben’s height than usual? And during Short King Spring!

• Troy being shot — in a school, no less — feels like a weird, risky joke to make, but it’s resolved so quickly you don’t have time to process its darkness. (To be fair, it feels true to Trent’s character; the dude’s lovable but pretty tone-deaf.)

• Kirkland Air.

• “I shouldn’t be flitting about with a boyfriend, like Carrie Bradshaw. I should be mourning my dead husband, like Carrie Bradshaw.”

• After having a rough time at ASU in the season opener, we see Paxton back at Sherman Oaks High at the end of the second episode. He’s wearing a blazer and totaling a messenger bag on his way to a job interview. Is Daxton still in play?

• I think Nirmala will forever be the show’s funniest character, but Fabiola has really been stepping it up so far this season.

• “Once again, you really didn’t need to mention his race.”

Never Have I Ever Season-Premiere Recap: Performance Anxiety