Saturday, December 26, 2020

Never Have I Ever 1x01 Review: "Pilot" (A Coming-of-Age Comedy) [Contributor: Jenn]

Original Airdate: April 27, 2020

Do you remember what your high school experience was like?

Whether you had a great one or a downright unbearable one, I think we can all agree that high school is awkward. You’re still trying to figure out who you are, what you like, and who you want to become in the future. You know nothing about love and relationships, and you don’t have that much experience in the world yet. But that doesn’t mean high school students don’t know trauma or grief. And that’s something Devi Vishwakumar (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) knows firsthand.

When we open Never Have I Ever, narrator John McEnroe (just go with it; it’ll be explained later on) tells us the story of Devi, a 15-year old high school sophomore who had a terrible freshman year. Her father had a heart attack and died at a recital. And then with no medical explanation apart from grief and trauma, Devi’s legs stopped working which left her confined to a wheelchair. Not the ideal freshman experience by any means.

But Devi’s a sophomore now who is no longer wheelchair-bound, and is ready to reinvent herself. She decides the first step to improving her life and the lives of her best friends Fabiola (Lee Rodriguez) and Eleanor (Ramona Young) is for them all to get boyfriends. Her reasoning is that boyfriends are stepping stones to popularity. The boys don’t have to be perfect — they just have to give the girls enough credibility to get popular. Devi tells the girls she’s setting her sights on a flamboyant and not technically out boy named Jonah, but in reality she’s crushing hard for Paxton Hall-Yoshida (Darren Barnet). And at the end of this episode, she decides to ask him to sleep with her. 

Devi is obsessed with her plan to gain popularity and have a “normal” high-school existence. She doesn’t want to do the work to emotionally process the trauma of her father’s death — even when her therapist (played by Niecy Nash) recommends that Devi begin journaling. Instead of working through her feelings, Devi prefers to try and control her life. She prides herself on success and this area should be no different.


The thing about Devi is that in the pilot, and as the series progresses, we don’t always have to root for her. She’s flawed and she’s also a teenager. When she chooses to say or do things, when she makes choices that we as audience members cringe at, we’re reminded that she doesn’t know enough about life to be self-aware. It’s frustrating in the pilot to see Devi’s reaction to the news that Eleanor has a boyfriend (and that Fabiola knew). Eleanor dating a theatre tech was not part of Devi’s plan to make them all popular or cool; it was, however, something that Eleanor and Fabiola hid from Devi because they knew she would overreact. You’d think Devi would be happy: Eleanor has a boyfriend.

But it’s not about Eleanor’s happiness; it’s about Devi’s desire for control. She storms out, irate, while John McEnroe talks about them essentially both being passionate and hot-tempered individuals. 

As Never Have I Ever continues, we’re going to see exactly how flawed Devi is, how much her selfish actions and lies hurt others... especially her best friends. But for now, the pilot is an example of how Devi doesn’t have the proper perspective yet that she needs to grow.

A lot of Never Have I Ever is about Devi, her attempt to navigate high school, and her friendships. But the core of the show is family and we’ll see a lot more in the coming episodes focused on Devi’s relationship with her mother and cousin Kamala. But in the pilot, we get the chance to see their dynamics a little. Kamala is a beautiful PhD student at Caltech. There’s not clear reasoning as to why Devi dislikes Kamala so much, but we can read between the lines: she’s the perfect Indian woman. She’s smart, she’s beautiful, she’s motivated, she’s set to have an arranged marriage, and she’s also just a perfectly nice person! She’s trying, and Devi thinks she’s trying too hard. Kamala is, in the teenager’s mind, imposing on her way of life and also setting an impossible standard to live up to in her family. I get it. And as we learn more about Devi’s relationship with her mom, we’ll discover more about family grief and trauma.

Never Have I Ever is such a delightful comedy and I can’t wait to continue to unpack it with you all!

Favorite things:
  • I love that John McEnroe is the narrator for this show. I will never NOT love it.
  • “Not a super chill time to be a brown person in America.”
  • “Sociopaths get shit done, Fab.”
  • “Your responses were very hurtful.”
  • I just love Kamala and she only grows on me as the series progresses.
What did you all think of the pilot? Sound off in the comments below!


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