Mindy Kaling’s Netflix comedy Never Have I Ever debuted last year to near critical acclaim. The series centers on Indian-American high-schooler Devi Vishwakumar (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) as she navigates the drama of friends, boys, and grief after the loss of her father. Kaling loosely based the show on her own upbringing as a second-generation Indian without significant ties to her heritage, while also tapping into the feelings of loss she felt as an adult after her mother’s death. Never Have I Ever was a watershed moment for representation in Hollywood—not just because the main character had brown skin, but also because she was allowed to be impulsive and selfish and, at times, genuinely unlikeable.
The second season builds upon the solid foundation of the first season. Devi and her mother Nalini (Poorna Jagannathan) are still at odds with one another, even after their moment of understanding at the end of the first season. Nalini, still unsure of how to raise Devi by herself, threatens to move the family back to India. In the midst of the chaos of her life, Devi decides that the only way to say goodbye to America is to live out the Hollywood life of her dreams. That is, to date two men at the same time. What could go wrong?
Well, it turns out, just about everything. Never Have I Ever thrives in the disarray of Devi’s decision making, which is often clouded by her inability to see the perspectives of others or understand that her actions have consequences. The second season doesn’t shy away from Devi’s need for growth, and in that it continues to be an honest portrayal of high school and the complications of growing up.
At the center of the show is the standout Ramakrishnan, who exudes even more confidence and charisma in the sophomore season than she did in her debut. Ramakrishnan embodies every emotion that a 15-year-old might go through: from jealousy to exuberance, defiance to vulnerability. The screen is especially electric when Ramakrishnan and Jagannathan are paired together, both bringing sensibility and care to their scenes as a warring mother-daughter duo who can’t seem to land on the same page as one another.
Season 2 brings some fresh faces into the fold, and they immediately make a mark. Megan Suri plays Aneesa, a new Indian-American student at Sherman Oaks High whose presence intimidates Devi immediately. She’s effortlessly cool, fun to hang out with, and is the model, respectful Indian child to juxtapose against the often-brash Devi. It’s fun to see Suri’s Aneesa be the foil to Devi’s unpredictability, and her storyline offers a teaching moment that doesn’t feel forced or contrite.
Common also joins the cast as a rival dermatologist who becomes a friendly shoulder for Nalini in her time of need. A signature of Mindy Kaling comedies is the inter-office romance between conflicting characters; in Kaling’s first show The Mindy Project, the titular main character dated both the midwife from the rival practice upstairs as well as her lovable grouch coworker Danny. So it’s no surprise that the tactic is employed in Never Have I Ever, and to great effect. Though Common occasionally sounds like he’s merely reciting lines, he manages to spar effectively with Jagannathan and their slow dance towards romance is exciting to watch unfold. Plus, it’s refreshing to see an interracial relationship that isn’t centered on whiteness—or race at all.
Everything that made Never Have I Ever special in the first season is back and even better in Season 2. Yes, Devi is still a messy character, the type who makes you slap your forehead after everything she does, but watching her grief manifest in vulnerable ways still makes her worth rooting for. John McEnroe continues to be a great narrator for Devi’s inner dialogue, and the parallels between their hotheadedness become even more apparent. And the Vishwakumar family dynamics are still true to life, especially for immigrant families everywhere. Never Have I Ever doesn’t skip a beat in its return, and remains entertaining, challenging, and a joy to spend time with.
Never Have I Ever Season 2 premieres Thursday, July 15 on Netflix
Radhika Menon is a pop culture-obsessed writer and filmmaker living in New York City. Her work has appeared in NY Post’s Decider, Teen Vogue, and will be featured in Brown Girl Magazine‘s first ever print anthology. She is a proud alumna of the University of Michigan and thinks she’s funny on Twitter.
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