Sunday, April 18, 2021

Never Have I Ever 1x06 Review: “... been the loneliest boy in the world” (A New Perspective) [Contributor: Jenn]

“... been the loneliest boy in the world”
Original Airdate: April 27, 2020

Television shows often present one-dimensional villains, especially when it comes to high-school students. You have the “mean girl” or the “jerk,” and they’re usually incredibly popular and horrible to the show’s protagonist for seemingly no reason. Eventually these characters get their comeuppance and all is seemingly well.

But what I appreciate about Never Have I Ever is that the show never presents Devi as a faultless hero. In fact, I would argue that more often than not, the show reminds us that she’s a teenager who can be selfish and fixated on her own issues rather than the issues of those around her. She’s so focused on getting with Paxton that she abandons her best friends Fabiola and Eleanor, both of whom had a lot to talk to her about. So it’d be easy to have the show present Devi’s nemesis, Ben Gross, as someone with a one-track mind of meanness.

And while Ben does and says things early on in this show to Devi that are pretty bad, “... been the loneliest boy in the world” is not the show’s attempt to excuse his actions. Rather, it’s an inventive way to demonstrate that everyone walks through stories that they don’t share with others.


Ben has everything — the best grades, a lot of money, a popular girlfriend — so we’re primed to not feel too bad for him when he makes fun of Devi or her friends. He’s privileged, after all. But I like that this episode doesn’t excuse Ben’s behavior, but that it reminds us that all the money in the world can’t solve the problem of loneliness. Ben’s parents expect him to achieve; his mom is happy when he tells her that he got an A. Ben’s dad expects him to bend; he abandons Ben for work and Ben doesn’t push back in anger but resigns himself to being alone. Ben’s girlfriend expects him to be accommodating; he’s there when she needs him but she’s not there when he needs her.

Ben’s housekeeper, Patty, is the only one who actively reaches out to Ben consistently and tries to forge a real, personal connection. But all of this abandonment doesn’t lead Ben to becoming bitter — instead he pretends his life is good and that nothing is wrong. It’s almost worse that way sometimes. I have the tendency to sweep my disappointments under a rug and pretend that they don’t bother me. But Ben hits a breaking point when Devi’s mom mentions that she and her family have family dinners together every night. Ben can’t even remember the last time he and his parents sat down to a meal together. No amount of money or achievement can prevent you from being alone.

And it’s something Ben really wrestles with in this episode. What’s the point of being the best and achieving the most if his parents still won’t love and support him? 

The one thing to really note about Ben in this episode is that I believe his loneliness has made him more perceptive to the feelings of others, especially Devi. But we also see his selflessness in his relationship with Patty. When his father abandons taking him to a basketball game, Ben pretends to hide his disappointment and tells Patty that he has work to do anyway. He then tells her that she should go to the game and take her kids. She thanks him and when Ben sees her on television, he smiles. He’s not the self-absorbed rich kid stereotype we’re used to seeing in teen shows who doesn’t care about people. He knows a lot about Patty and it’s clear she’s the one constant in his life.

But Ben also notices Devi on the bus ride back from the Model U.N. He notes her moment of fear when she sees the ambulance, he notices her talking to Paxton at school, and he genuinely tries to ask her what he did wrong. He’s not being manipulative or mean in those moments (even if sometimes he is being a bit smug); he’s genuinely trying to figure out why or how he hurt Devi.

All of these feelings overflow when Ben hears about the Vishwakumar family dinners. So Nalini invites Ben to dinner where he has the chance to rat out Devi for what she did at Model U.N. — but he doesn’t. He’s nice to her in that moment and in the sweet ones after, the two actually have an emotionally vulnerable conversation about loneliness. In fact, Devi admits her secret to Ben: that she and Paxton aren’t a couple and she lied, which is why Paxton is so upset with her. It’s the first time we really get to see both of these characters express vulnerabilities, but it won’t be the last.

“... been the loneliest boy in the world” is such a fun departure from our traditionally Devi-centric episodes, but honestly it was necessary in order for us to understand Ben more and to set up the future Ben/Devi stuff we’re going to see!

Favorite things:

  • Okay, it’ll forever be perfect that Andy Samberg narrates this episode. Forever.
  • I love that Angela Kinsey makes an appearance in the show as Ben’s mom! She’s so great. Also I want the dress that she’s wearing the first time we see her.
  • “Why don’t we build a pillow fort and watch a scary movie like Shrek?”
  • “Please lower the spice level accordingly.”
  • “He’s nice and smart and he could never buy drugs because he looks like a narc!”
  • If you don’t ship Ben and Devi after this episode, I can’t help you.

What did you all think of this episode? Sound off in the comments below!


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