A new season of “Never Have I Ever” on Netflix paints a version of 2021 teenagers that’s determined to keep it real.
Star Maitreyi Ramakrishnan prides herself on how normal Devi Vishwakumar is: She’s nerdy and awkward, loves her friends fiercely and fights with her mom constantly. Other than having two boys fighting over her, her high school years probably look a lot like all of ours.
“Growing up, I used to watch teen shows and think, ‘Oh my God I don’t look like that and I’m that age. What the hell?” said Ramakrishnan, 19 ― just a few years older than Devi.
“A lot of expectations in a bunch of teen shows are, like, ‘you should have done this by this age and you should be doing this by this grade. How come you haven’t done this yet’?
“We just try to keep it real and realistic. All these guys are virgins and that’s OK.”
When season two picks up, Devi is still trying to pick between Ben (Jaren Lewison) and Paxton (Darren Barnet) before ultimately — to the dismay and horror of her best friends — trying to date them both at the same time.
Things don’t quite go as planned, partly because it’s high school and partly because of Devi herself, who has an uncanny ability to create chaos wherever she goes.
Ramakrishnan promises Devi is learning from her mistakes. Or at least trying.
“Just because she’s the main character doesn’t mean we have to make her seem holier than thou and exempt her. She’s a mess and that’s part of the appeal of Devi. We all see our inner mess in the mess that Devi is,” she said.
“I think she’s starting to understand that her actions have consequences.”
Beyond boy troubles, Devi lives a normal teen existence, or at least a normal teen who has John McEnroe doing her voice-overs. A new Indian girl in class makes her feel less special. Her gorgeous older cousin (Richa Moorjani) can do no wrong. And this year, her best friends Eleanor (Ramona Young) and Fabiola (Lee Rodriguez) have their own burgeoning social lives.
IMPORTANCE OF FRIENDSHIP
Yet even when the three girls fight, it feels realistic. There are no “Gossip Girl”-style takedowns. They argue, they sulk, they come back to each other.
“They’re not perfect friends who never mess up. They’re just realistic friends, which in and of itself is perfect. They’re perfect for each other,” Ramakrishnan said.
“It’s this aspirational friendship and it’s a dynamic we need to see on television and film more ... I hope people take from the show that those friendships are if not more, then equally important to the romantic relationships.”
For a sweet, earnest show, “Never Have I Ever” still looks revolutionary, with an Indian lead and her two nonwhite best friends. For Ramakrishnan, it was important that it didn’t look or feel like a stunt.
“Of course her culture plays an aspect into different plots and storylines, but it’s not all she is,” she said. “It’s not all about her culture. She’s not, like, ‘today I am an Indian girl like I was the day before.’ That’s just weird. Same with Eleanor and Fabiola. Their background, their culture isn’t all they are. They have a whole personality instead.”
But the show doesn’t ignore it either. “We’re not pretending like we’re all just nothing,” Ramakrishnan said. “ It’s just embracing our culture in a realistic way.”