The ‘Never Have I Ever’ Final Season Proves This Was Always a Different Kind of Teen Show


As a millennial who grew up on soapy dramas like The OC, Gossip Girl, I could tell from the beginning that Netflix’s Never Have I Ever would be a different beast. But it’s not just the show’s stereotype-busting South Asian representation, or the fact that it centers around the nerds à la Freaks and Geeks without making them out to be losers that has made this series stand so far apart. It's also not only because of the immaculate wardrobes, which color the show’s world with imagination and boldness worthy of adolescence.

Instead, as Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher’s brilliant comedy comes to a close Thursday, it’s the thoughtful heart at its center that has made it so consistently joyful to watch.

Unlike so many teen shows, which can thrive on plot twists usually involving backstabbing and subterfuge, the kids on Never Have I Ever are always rooting for one another, even when they’re mid-beef. (And over the years, there’s been a lot of beef.) For four seasons, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan has played the grieving, rage-prone teen Devi Vishwakumar with attitude and levity, but her vulnerability has anchored the series most.

When we first met Devi, she was trying to become cool and lose her virginity while struggling to reconcile the sudden loss of her father. As much as this coming-of-age tale has pivoted on all the classic hallmarks—a dreamy love triangle with the competitive Ben Gross (Jaren Lewison) and the kind, dreamy Paxton Hall-Yoshida (Darren Barnet); minimally supervised field trips; college applications; prom—Devi’s journey through her grief has been our propeller.

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This season, as implied by the Season 3 finale, Devi is going to need to deal with the consequences of one of her dreams: She lost her virginity to Ben Gross, and now things are extremely awkward. True to Devi form, she also manages to find someone new to feud with, put her Princeton dream in jeopardy, and start a(nother) fight with her best friend, Fabiola (Lee Rodriguez), over. But our favorite fiery rageball has also learned a lot of coping techniques from her kind, exquisitely patient therapist Dr. Jamie Ryan (played by an excellent Niecy Nash). Even when she falters, Devi manages to get back up and apologize to whomever she’s hurt—and these days, she’s doing that a lot faster than in the past.

Case in point: Even while Devi is seething over Ben, she can’t help but come to his rescue later on in the season, when his dream of getting into Columbia is in question. Even when it’s difficult, Never Have I Ever characters usually choose forgiveness over spite.

As its name implies, however, this coming-of-age series is all but sanctimonious; it revels in its characters’ acts of rebellion and mischief. They’re all crucial for self-discovery, and more than anything, that might be what Never Have I Ever is really about.

Teen Drama Jocks Are Finally Cool to Crush on Again, Thanks to ‘Never Have I Ever’

As usual, all of Devi’s friends are struggling this season—from theater geek Eleanor (Ramona Young) to tech genius Fabiola, and even including Devi’s impossibly dreamy ex Paxton Hall-Yoshida, who drops out of Arizona State University after only two weeks of misery. In all that mess, however, it’s striking just how much forgiveness each of them finds—for one another, and also for themselves, as they figure it all out.

The one sour note of this season is the presence of Jeff Garlin, who was fired from The Goldbergs following misconduct claims; at the time, Garlin said his actions had been “misconstrued.” It’s unclear why Garlin, of all performers, needed to play lover to Devi’s spunky grandmother, Nirmala, but honestly, (Ranjita Chakravarty) deserves way better than this dude who keeps calling her “Nirmy.” (Beyond the real-life allegations against Garlin, there’s also zero chemistry.)

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As with any long walk toward self-acceptance, Devi has worked for four seasons to reconcile her conflicted feelings about her family—mostly, her annoyingly hot cousin Kamala (Richa Moorjani) and her caring but occasionally harsh mom, Nalini (Poorna Jagannathan). As Devi’s confidence has grown, she’s come to see Kamala for the kind, empathetic cousin that she is; by the end of the series, Devi admits she’s become like the sister she never had. Devi and Nalini, meanwhile, have finally figured out how to communicate effectively after years at one another’s throats—and this season, Nalini’s own journey toward self discovery makes leaps and bounds, as Poorna Jagannathan caps off a TV-mom performance for the books.

In the end, however, it’s all about Devi and her practical and emotional coming-of-age. Just as we kicked off on a prayer to the Hindu gods, that’s also how it ends. This time, however, Devi isn’t asking for anything—she’s there to express gratitude. It’s a fitting ending for a series that insists, over and over again, that even though we can’t control the outcomes in our lives, the right outlook can manifest a whole lot of beauty.

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