*disclaimer, this may have light spoilers and is from a storytelling perspective. This is disregarding the cultural implications of Never Have I Ever.
There is a popular netflix show called Never Have I Ever. It’s particularily caught public attention because of its groundbreaking decision to make the story revolve aroung a South Indian girl named Devi who has recently faced two serious traumas. To see what the hype was about, I watched the show.
It sucked. At least for the first five episodes, this show was so horrible that I nearly stopped watching it. Unrealisitc, cringy, an increddibly annoying main character. Devi is the epitome of what most people cannot stand about people: selfish, rude, embarrsing, uncultural, a bad friend, etc. She did some very questionable things like (spoiler) ask someone she didn’t know to have sex with her…yes I’m not joking. The show had some pretty amazing subplots for the side characters, like Devi’s two best friends Fab and Eleanor, Ben, and others. Devi was the main problem for the show.
And when it seemed like Devi could not get more annoying, where to the point that second hand embarrsement has infected me enough to abandon the show for good, the show did something genius.
It changed POV.
The change was only for 1 episode, where we follow Devi’s academic nemisis, Ben. Ben too was an extremely annoying vharacter, but one we did not know about. We were tired of Devi, so they gave us Ben. Safe to say, a peek into Ben’s life, no matter how glamourous, was eye opening. Lonliness, which we as the audience could already sense, but still. His POV mostly removed Devi from the equation for that episode, so we could breathe. Suddenly, rather than leaving the show for good, I was hooked. What Mindy Kaling and the writers did was genius, not only because it kept me watching the show, but it revealed what the show was about.
Devi is supposed to be annoying. She is supposed to be dramatic and rude and a horrible person. We are supposed to feel angry at her for chasing a guy that doesn’t like her as she abandons her friends, who are also going through a hard time. But this is all for a reason.
Remember how I said Devi went through two major trauma’s in her life? Well, here they are: she saw her dad die right in front of her, and from the stress of it all, she became temporarily paralyzed. Those to incidents cling onto Devi’s skin like glue, and the only way she can block out those traumatic moments is to shed who she once was and become what she wants to be: popular, cool, and in love (or lust). Her motivation to change is not really understood until the final episodes, where her therapist strongly suggests that all of this is a result of her refusing to healthily process her dad’s death.
That break episode I was talking about? It made me empathise with Ben, even though he is a brat. It also made me open up to empathizing with Devi. Being in her perspective, we see things through her eyes, and since she is blocking out these very important grieving emotions, we only see the stupid things she does.
Devi’s father (who, fun fact, is Sendhil Rammamurthy, my dance teacher’s son), was a glue for her family. He was loving and caring and gone too soon. His death shattered them in a very silent way. Life after death, grieving, is not often portrayed in media. More importantly, the behaviors badly processed grief can produce is not often portrayed in media. That is what made Never Have I Ever a good show for me: it showed what grief can do to someone.
Devi is the anti-hero of Never Have I Ever. She makes bad decisions because she thinks they’re good decisions. She lashes out. She’s painfully realisitic.
Have you ever heard the saying “we hate in others what we hate in ourselves”? A lot of us found Devi annoying because many of the behaviors she exhibited (rude, hormonal, cringy, desperate, selfish) are things we exhibit ourselves. Her flaws are very common flaws, not things like “i want to destroy the world,” or “I’m too tall”
To give Devi some credit, she is supportive when a certain friend comes out to her, or when a friend needs her to model for her. She is an accepting person, she does apologize, she’s bold, she’s strong, and she’s a boss. Her anti-hero traits really stood out, but at the end of the show, we were rooting for her.
One sentence from a friend clarified this all for me.
Because she is, Devi is lost and is trying to find herself, no matter how much she denies it. And she will have to come face to face with that one day. She is not a very dynamic character, but that was the point. I applaud the writers of Never Have I Ever for taking this choice, and for showing that change does not happen overnight. It takes times…or multiple seasons.
At the end of the day, Never Have I Ever had a lot of postives and a lot of negatives. Postives? LGBTQ+ rep, disability rep, grief rep, absent parents, present parents, strict parents, the Struggle of Life after a death, arranged marriage, virginty, love of Indian culture, some toxic parts of our community, lonliness, therapy, mental health, and the ups and downs of friendship and love in the very tumutlous high school years. Negatives: it paints the Indian culture in a neative light, some find it problamtic that the first Indian MC in mainstream television was portrayed as an anti-hero, it’s predicatable plot, cringy, over-the-top characters that don’t really exist in real life (like Eleanor: I was a theatre kid and we did not act like that), and decently bad acting. I still liked this show mostly because of the representation of grief and the anti-hero, but there were many many things I hope they fix in the future (then again it is a rom com).
Never Have I Ever made me laugh and cringe, and then cry and weep. Even if you do not like rom coms, I urge you to watch it all the way through even if you want to stop. There is a lot we can learn as writers and storytellers from this Netflix show. Also, it has a ton of well done diversity that did not feel forced.
I hope you liked this post! This is my first of many posts about anti-heros, villans, morally grey characters, and how we can write them to the best of our ability. I’ll be interviewing people about this topic, having discussions, and reading books. I hope you’re as excited as me!
Comment your thoughts on this below, and don’t forget to like this post if you liked it!