You can find my review of the first season of Never Have I Ever here.
Ever since the (somewhat disappointing) final kiss of the first season of Never Have I Ever, I’ve been waiting not-so-patiently for the second season of this delightful teen rom-com series. The first season was filled with grief, loss, humor, and touching coming-of-age-stories told from the perspective of Indian-American teen Devi Vishwakumar (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan), along with her family, friends, and frenemies, and it was such good watching. (And yes, it’s totally normal for a grown ass woman to have strong opinions about who fictional teenage characters choose to lock their lips with, thanks so much for your faux concern.) Now Season 2 has finally arrived and it has a lot more to love (plus an additional Genetically Blessed Face), but I also have some notes, which I’m sure the creators—Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher—will be taking into consideration for Season 3.
As this season opens, Devi’s mother Nalini (Poorna Jagannathan) is still convinced that the best plan to recover from the sudden death of Devi’s father and Devi’s less-than-ideally-Indian behavior is to move back to India where they will be surrounded by family (whom they haven’t really seen in years). Devi thinks it’s a terrible plan, but it does open the door for her to enact her own truly horrendous plan to secretly date academically-gifted Ben Gross (Jaren Lewison ) and physically-gifted Paxton Hall-Yoshida (Darren Barnet) at the same time.
She really likes them both—not even a trusty pro/con list can help her determine a clear winner—and she figures that all she has to do is keep up the farce for a month before she disappears to the other side of the world.
Obviously, this all blows up in Devi’s face when she throws a huge party while her mom is away in India scouting out an apartment for them. As if it’s not bad enough that Ben and Paxton find out that she’s two-timing them, Paxton gets hit by a car, therefore dashing his hopes of cushy swimming scholarships to top universities. Devi has once again seriously screwed things up. You’ve probably already guessed that things also don’t go especially well for her mother in India. She realizes that their real home is in California, which means Devi isn’t going to be able to double kiss-and-run like she hoped, and will actually have to face the consequences of her actions. Oopsie-doodles.
Last season, Devi’s selfish, short-tempered, self-centered explosiveness felt wonderfully realistic and vulnerable. It still does to a certain degree this season, but I also started to worry that Devi’s character is at risk of not maturing, in which case all those qualities will begin to feel one-note, stunted, and, honestly, pretty fucking annoying. All the elements are there for her to spin her teenage grief and rage into righteous anger, to use it for something more than hurting other people or getting herself into trouble, but we only see glimmers of that this season. Like when her cousin Kamala’s (Richa Moorjani) hard work and research is studiously ignored by the D&D bros in her lab, and she’s at a loss as to how to proceed. Other people give her generic, useless advice, stripped of gender and racial context, but Devi listens, feels her anger boil and tells Kamala that “everyone thinks that Asian women will take all kinds of crap, like bow or hand you a cup of coffee or some shit. You can’t let them.” Yes! This! This still undermines the model minority myth, still channels Devi’s anger, still allows her to be self-centered, but it also gives her room to mature. Or when, in a moment of true vulnerability, Devi asks Dr. Ryan (Niecy Nash!!!) if she thinks she’s crazy, and Dr. Ryan responds that Devi isn’t, but she feels things deeply and will “live a life that is emotionally rich and really beautiful.” And then Devi insults Dr. Ryan’s necklace. THAT, my friends, is the kind of balance between vulnerability and sharp-wit that I want to see more of from Devi. That said, without giving any spoilers, Episode 9 is absolutely worth all of Devi’s more annoying hijinks and made me think perhaps I just needed to be more patient with Devi’s character growth. How’s that for some decisive reviewing?
Much of the rest of the time, though, we get things like Devi freaking out when Aneesa (Megan Suri), another Desi girl, transfers to Sherman Oaks, because she worries that Aneesa is prettier, cooler, more athletic, and funnier than her. Plus, the other kids insist on calling Aneesa “Devi 2.0” and she appears to be flirting with Ben, for whom Devi still has unresolved feelings. By the time Devi allows herself to feel how much she likes Aneesa and appreciates having a friend with the same cultural background, she’s totally committed to undermining the whole friendship.
It’s not just a moment of rage, but a drawn out, calculated attack, followed by a drawn out period of refusing to take responsibility. I spent a lot of time wondering why Devi irked me more this season than last, and why she irked me at all when I’m willing to extend so much grace to severely flawed female characters on other shows. I think, as I said before, it really does come down to the fact that, as the series progresses, Devi is beginning to feel more one-dimensional, and without the support of more layers and framework, her character simply starts to crumble under the weight of her cracks and flaws.
Sadly for us, so much time is spent following Devi’s antics, apologies, and follow-up apologies, that Aneesa isn’t afforded much time for character development. Nor is any time allowed to explore possible cultural differences between their Muslim and Hindu families. The same is true of a disordered eating subplot line and a controlling romantic relationship, both of which are brought up and then almost just as quickly dismissed. It reminded me of how they handled Devi’s paralysis last season, and how deeply disappointed and frustrated I was. The show manages to pretty deftly work in a subplot that talks about Japanese internment camps, and I wonder why it can’t give the same treatment to these equally important emotional issues?
Last season we got to see Ben mature, even though he continued to be a pill, and this season we see the same happen for Paxton. He even has his own episode, narrated by Gigi Hadid (someone who understands what it means to be seen for your looks alone), where he thinks about his life beyond swimming and playing games that involve throwing things at Trent’s (Benjamin Norris) penis. I’m being flip about it, but it was actually a really nice episode, and I appreciate the way they’re developing Paxton’s character beyond eye candy. That said, I have many questions about how quickly his broken arm managed to heal, yet also tanked his extremely promising swimming career. But my biggest question is why they chose to put a shirtless thirst-trap sequence of Paxton sanding down some table legs after the episode all about how he wants to be seen for more than just his body. I’m fine with totally gratuitous sweaty shirtless slo-mo sequences (it’s kinda my brand), but it would have made more sense earlier in the season? As an aside, Trent is a hidden gem of comedy this season, and there are indications that there might be room for his character to develop more next season, which is promising.
Anyway, Devi’s theater obsessed best friend Eleanor (Ramona Young) has a romantic entanglement with an out-of-work overgrown child actor, which ultimately brings her closer to her father (Andrew Tinpo Lee) and his girlfriend (Helen Hong). Kamala also develops more this season via her aforementioned run in with the lab rat pack. I read another review that wished Kamala’s character would disappear, but I find that she— along with Devi’s paternal grandmother (Ranjita Chakravarty) who moves in with them this season—add interest, depth, and humor to the show. I love them both and would be devastated if they left. Also, without giving spoilers, Kamala briefly flirts with someone this season, and I am now so deeply invested in them that if they do not end up in a long-term committed relationship I will need several months of therapy with Dr. Ryan to work through my disappointment. Devi’s other best friend, Fabiola (Lee Rodriguez), has an absolutely touching storyline about trying to balance her nerdy robotics-loving self with her out-and-proud queer self who is dating a popular and pop-culture loving girl. She has some heartfelt crises trying to balance everything before re-centering and figuring out how to be comfortable with her new self. It’s probably the best told story of the season, though I’m not entirely convinced that her girlfriend isn’t actually a robot. Devi’s mom has several run-ins with Dr. Jackson (Common, the aforementioned Genetically Blessed Face), a slick dermatologist who works in her building. And let me just say, all praise and thanks to Costume Designer Salvador Pérez, Jr. for his work on making Common’s suits. Because, if there is a god? She lives somewhere in the fit of those suits. (And his face. Definitely also his face.) I wish I could say more about this storyline, but suffice to say my friend and I sent several texts back and forth that mostly consisted of “Because it’s COMMON! COMMON!”
Brutal honesty? By the end of this season I wasn’t really rooting for Devi to end up with either boy. And I was growing concerned that Devi was more focused on being liked than with liking them. You know what I mean? Oh, you do. And I know Dr. Ryan does. None of this should lead you to believe I didn’t enjoy watching this season. It should lead you to believe that I like picking apart shows, even those, like this one, that I enjoy watching. And it should lead you to believe that I did have some real areas of concern this season. I’m ever hopeful that the parts of the series of which I was less fond this season are just a case of the sophomore slumps, and next season will see things back on track. Maybe Devi will even be focused on things that are not just romantical in nature. Or perhaps at least a new romantical interest will appear. But for the love of all things good and golden, please, please, PLEASE let Kamala’s passing flirtation turn into something more serious. And Dr. Jackson and his suits. That’s all. Just. Dr. Jackson. And his suits. His suits…And his face that is blessed genetically.