Mindy Kaling's Never Have I Ever is a smart, sweet teen romp: Review
“I just want to be a normal girl who isn’t called mean names and could actually have a boyfriend,” sighs Devi Vishwakumar (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan), the teen at the center of Netflix’s new comedy Never Have I Ever (premiering April 27). In this sweet, shrewd series created by Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher, Devi has to navigate what “normal” means for a girl who’s juggling two cultures, coping with grief, and above all, totally “ready to bone.”
After the death of her father (Sendhil Ramamurthy), Devi heads into sophomore year determined to have a “sexy high school experience,” ideally with swim-team dreamboat Paxton (Darren Barnet). While her best friends Eleanor (Ramona Young) and Fabiola (Lee Rodriguez) are on board, there are several very unsexy obstacles in Devi’s path, like her smug academic rival Ben (Jaren Lewison), and her no-nonsense therapist Dr. Ryan (Niecy Nash), who wants Devi to confront her sadness. Then there’s her demanding mom, Nalini (a slyly amusing Poorna Jagannathan), a devout Hindu who pushes Devi to emulate her cousin Kamala (Richa Moorjani), a Cal Tech grad student headed for an arranged marriage.
Never Have I Ever is narrated by legendary (and legendarily temperamental) tennis champion John McEnroe. It’s a strange but brilliant choice; like McEnroe, Devi is a “hothead” prone to sudden outbursts of anger and sarcasm. (When Ben tells her she has a “difficult personality,” Devi shoots back, “I’m a goddamn delight! I should punch you in the Adam’s Apple for saying that.”) Newcomer Ramakrishnan, whom Kaling found through an open casting call on Instagram, has remarkable comedic swagger; she delivers Devi’s savage takedowns with the cheerful confidence of a young Amy Poehler. McEnroe is skilled at self-parody, and he toggles his tone between supportive observer, frustrated adult scold, and OK Boomer. (“Damn, Devi! Preeti’s sister really schooled you. Read the room.”)
Much like Hulu’s stellar PEN15, Never Have I Ever anchors its hormonal hijinks in authentic, poignant female friendships. Devi’s friends are more than sidekicks: Fabiola is a robotics whiz coming to terms with her sexuality, and drama-club president Eleanor has her own family issues to deal with. Though Devi’s obsession with Paxton sometimes makes her a bad friend, Kaling and Lang always lead their heroine back to the BFFs who love her. “If women didn’t accept each other’s apologies,” notes Devi, “The View would grind to a halt.” And even when Devi is a bit of a jerk, she’s still a goddamn delight. A-
Never Have I Ever premieres April 27 on Netflix.