Last year, audiences were introduced to and dazzled by newcomer Maitreyi Ramakrishnan in Mindy Kaling’s coming-of-age comedy series “Never Have I Ever.” That first season was not only a ton of fun, but told stories about teenage girls from a unique perspective, alongside the likes of “Pen15.” In an interview with Ramakrishnan last year, she said it was so amazing to see her own Indian culture presented so openly. “I never saw that when I grew up and now my little cousin — she’s 10 years younger than me — is gonna see that and think, ‘Wow, that’s cool.’ And I’m so proud to be able to say that’s my culture,” she said.
But with the groundwork laid and the discussion already had about this show’s relevance, it would have been easy for series co-creator and writer Lang Fisher to rest on goodwill. Instead, Season 2 of “Never Have I Ever” continues to bring that perfect blend of heart and humor with a little sting underlying everything. It’s hard to capture the magic of that first season, but Season 2 has something special all its own.
Season 2 starts off where Season 1 ended: with Devi (Ramakrishnan) kissing her former nemesis-turned-crush Ben Gross (Jaren Lewison). But the kiss is short-lived thanks to her mother, Nalini (Poorna Jagannathan). At the same time, Devi also discovers class hottie Paxton Hall-Yoshida (Darren Barnet) is also interested in her, leaving Devi to wonder if she can get away with having two boyfriends at the same time.
Last season was primarily focused on Devi’s grief over her father’s death and how she subsumed that in her attempt to get on Paxton’s radar. But Devi soon discovers that in trying to ignore her trauma, she put herself out there enough to gain a smidge of popularity — not enough for people to actually look up when she enters a room, but enough that both Paxton and Ben see her as a viable dating option. Such contrasting motivations and outcomes are what make the series so wonderfully written. Devi’s problems are not solved by a long shot. She’s just able to utilize them as a conduit for other things which, in turn, create new problems.
At its heart, “Never Have I Ever” is as much a story of loss as it is growing up. Where Devi struggled last year in the immediate wake of her dad’s death, the longer time goes on, it takes more time to develop. The arrival of a new Indian girl named Aneesa (Megan Suri) causes Devi to make some incredibly bad decisions, such as outing a secret from Aneesa’s past. Much of this is spurned by jealousy over Aneesa’s closeness to Ben, but as the back half of the season examines, there’s a lingering fear that Devi is really crazy and a problem starts to affect her.
ISABELLA B. VOSMIKOVA/NETFLIX
It’s amazing what Maitreyi Ramakrishnan can do with this series. Because the sense of loss isn’t as overt as it was in Season 1, she’s having to play with far more complexity than before. Ramakrishnan has such a masterful control over not just her emotions but her facial expressions, whether that’s being surprised at Paxton’s attraction to her or her lingering worries that her mom believes she’s crazy. This season, Devi gets to evoke a more confident maturity and Ramakrishnan doesn’t hit big milestones but really illustrates the sense of growth over 10 episodes.
Really, this season is about growth for all the characters, but it’s most compelling within Devi’s family. Last season, Nalini had planned to uproot Devi and move the family back to India. Plans change, but it causes Nalini to question her own agency and her family’s support. Jagannathan is just as fantastic as Ramakrishnan in this series, and her character really gets some introspection this season. Nalini starts to interact more with rival dermatologist Chris Jackson (played so sweetly by Common), and we start to see her as less of Devi’s mom and more as her own person.
There’s also an increased storyline for Richa Moorjani’s Kamala, Devi’s beautiful and brainy cousin. This season she’s working as part of a lab rotation where she butts up against sexism and misogyny. Last season we didn’t see Kamala show off how mad intelligent she is, and this season examines how women are undermined for their smarts. Moorjani’s such a sweet presence that when she finally has to “go H.A.M.” on someone it is shocking and hilarious at the same time.
With Devi’s family life being this fleshed out, it would be easy to let her school life fall by the wayside. But so much of this season is about Devi trying to enhance her high school experience and find her own inner maturity. Her dueling relationships with Ben and Paxton play out in classic “will they or won’t they” fashion and there’s no doubt fans will continue to choose sides as the season progresses. Both Barnet and Lewison are great, with Barnet subverting the hot guy stereotype by making a point of being a better student and, by proxy, learning to be a better man.
Devi’s best friends, Fabiola (Lee Rodriguez) and Eleanor (Ramona Young) also are trying to find their own identities in relationships that make them feel constrained. Fabiola’s relationship with the pop culturally inclined Eve (Christina Kartchner) puts her at a disadvantage with her love of robotics, while Eleanor is dating a toxic young actor. Both storylines are emotionally affecting in different ways, though Eleanor’s relationship with stepmother Sharon is one I want to see developed more.
“Never Have I Ever” Season 2 is just as delightful, funny, and relatable as Season 1, thanks in large part to its cast. Ramakrishnan and Jagannathan remain the MVPs, but there’s not a sour note in the bunch.
“Never Have I Ever” Season 2 premieres Thursday, July 15 on Netflix. All episodes will be released at once.
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