I Just Want a Fresh Start

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(Image source: https://www.tvseasonspoilers.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Never-Have-I-Ever-Season-2.jpg)

Aizah Kamal, Reviews Writer

I was browsing on Netflix, and I stumbled upon the top ten TV-shows and movies. At number one: I see “Never Have I Ever,” the high school rom-com starring newcomer Maitreyi Ramakrishnan as Devi Vishwakumar.

The show starts with the sudden death of Devi’s father. After this life-changing event occurred, she began to face anxiety, depression, and most of all, grief. Her father had a heart attack at her orchestra concert, and ever since then, she was unable to play the harp without becoming anxious. Not only were her musical abilities affected, but she also faced a period of temporary paralysis in which she couldn’t walk during her freshman year.

Fast-forwarding to a year later, Devi had finally regained sensation in her legs and could walk again. As a result, she wanted a fresh start and hoped to put her embarrassing past behind her.  At the start of her sophomore year, Devi put together a list that included finding a boyfriend, going to high school parties, and living a normal teenage life.

(Image source: https://summarizer.co/article/6-ways-never-have-i-ever-busts-asian-stereotypes)

Devi lives with her mother, Nalini (Poorna Jagannathan) and her very beautiful cousin, Kamala (Richa Moorjani). The show starts on the first day of Devi’s sophomore year at school. In her efforts to live a normal teenage life she will go to every length to help change her social status with the help of her two best friends: Fabiola (Lee Rodriguez) and Eleanor (Ramona Young).

The first few episodes of the season establish the Indianness of the Vishwakumars. The show checks off every single stereotype associated with Indians: over-protective conservative parents, arranged marriages, and mean aunties. Even so, the stereotypes contribute to the lighthearted humor of the show.

However, the show even bashes a few stereotypes as well. For one thing, many think it is an Indian rite of passage to be against therapy, but in contrast, Devi has actually been attending therapy sessions every week ever since her father’s passing. Moreover, she is rebellious, and is not always the studious, goody-two shoes that many Indians are portrayed to be like.

I think an important take-away of this show is the amount of representation it portrayed. For many young Indian girls especially, they aren’t used to seeing Indian-American representation in Hollywood. Most of the Indian-American actors are usually shown as very stereotypical and are expected to act nerdy, like Kunal Nayaar in the Big Bang Theory. It is refreshing to see a different approach being taken in this show.

However, there were also some problems that I came across while watching the show. Considering the political climate in India; one episode came off to seem as ignorant as it tends to subtly invoke Islamophobia. We see a woman eating alone at a puja because she has been ostracized by the Indian community and because she married an American-Muslim against her parents wishes, only to end up getting a divorce. Kamala, Devi’s cousin is under extensive pressure to settle down to an arranged marriage, and therefore, she finds herself in a conversation with the woman. And instead of what you’d expect, perhaps a talk such as ‘you should live your life on your own terms’, Kamala is told that she should do what her family wants in order to sidestep the lifetime of being socially boycotted.

Kamala is torn between the life she wants for herself and the life her parents want her to lead. She very casually dumps her boyfriend after finding that the boy who has been selected for her isn’t that bad after all.

The last two episodes explore the relationship tensions between Devi and her mother Nalini, and Devi’s grief is finally addressed, and this, in turn, happens to be the underlying cause for Devi’s unexplained behavior.

The stages of grief are beautifully portrayed throughout the show, and from Devi’s transformation from being in denial, to feeling a complexity of emotions, and finally, to being at peace, it proves the sentiment that pain from the past isn’t forgettable, rather, we can use that pain to continue to move forward and gain strength.

Is the show really worth watching? For sure! It spurred a lot of feelings and introduced the general public to cultures and ideas they probably have not witnessed before. Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher did a spectacular job on producing this show, and although some changes could have been made, the overall product was wholesome and empowering.