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‘Never Have I Ever’ spotlights adolescent experience for first-generation Americans

Netflix original series considers trauma and cultural identity in coming-of-age story

<p>"Never Have I Ever" is a Netflix original series created by Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher.</p>

"Never Have I Ever" is a Netflix original series created by Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher.

The Netflix original series “Never Have I Ever” premiered April 27, releasing 10 episodes of season one. Created by Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher, the series follows Devi, played by Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, as she tries to reinvent herself and improve her social status following a traumatic freshman year of high school. Involving her friends Fabiola, played by Lee Rodriguez, and Eleanor, played by Ramona Young, Devi confidently begins her sophomore year of high school in pursuit of a boyfriend.

Devi’s mission to reinvent herself is prompted by the trauma she faced the previous year, during which her father had a sudden heart attack during her orchestra concert, resulting in his death. Devi becomes psychosomatically paralyzed and must be in a wheelchair for the majority of her freshman year. Despite working with a therapist meant to deal with this trauma, Devi focuses her attention and time in therapy obsessing about her flirtation with Paxton, a popular upperclassman. Although Devi attempts to move on from this event by growing her romantic relationship and social standing at school, dramatic flashbacks to the night her father died reveal her remaining grief. In showcasing Devi’s avoidant coping mechanism that prompts her to lash out at friends and family, “Never Have I Ever” authentically explores adolescent trauma, a subject most teen dramas stray from.  

The show’s authentic exploration of adolescent trauma is made possible by Ramakrishnan’s down-to-earth performance as Devi. As a newcomer to the industry, Ramakrishnan embodies Devi’s boldness and determination to transform herself. In an interview with Vulture, Ramakrishnan stated, “I know I’m a really confident person, and it takes a lot to make me nervous.” Kaling noted that “she’s so comfortable in her own skin, and she just strikes you as not timid at all.” This confidence translates effortlessly on screen as Ramakrishnan’s genuineness brings viewers back to cringeworthy moments in high school.

Drawn from Kaling’s personal experience, the show highlights Devi’s identity as a Desi American by including essential elements of Indian American culture, including attending Ganesh Puja celebrations at the local high school and praying to a shrine at home. Although Devi struggles with feeling like her Indian heritage is not cool, when she reconnects with an Indian friend who explains how he learned to embrace his culture in college, she reconsiders how she looks at these traditions and how she views herself as a young Indian woman. The show also discusses culturally relevant issues for the adult generation through Devi’s cousin, Kamala, who debates her parents’ plan of an arranged marriage as she completes her graduate work in the United States.

Set in Sherman Oaks, California, in addition to Devi’s family, the show is filled with diverse characters to remain true to the diversity present in the suburbs of Los Angeles. Reflective of Kaling and her writers’ experience as children of immigrants, the show’s inclusive representation aspires to be a comforting and normalizing factor to first-generation teenagers who rarely see their cultural identity explored in mainstream American television. In an interview with the New York Times, Kaling revealed, “[the show] was about sharing those stories of feeling ‘other.’”

Although the show’s portrayal of high school friendships and relationships seems ordinary amongst the plethora of teen coming-of-age stories, the show’s raw expression of grief and trauma against the background of Devi’s cultural identity reveals a much more complex and nuanced adolescent experience, reflective of the experiences of many first-generation Americans. 

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