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Not in High School? Netflix’s ‘Never Have I Ever’ Will Still Make You Laugh — and Swoon

IndieWire chats with “NHIE” co-creator Lang Fisher about teen heartbreak, time jumps, and the inspired decision to end S3 with a boink.

A teen boy and girl confront each other in front of the lockers; still from "Never Have I Ever."

“Never Have I Ever”

LARA SOLANKI/NETFLIX

Editor’s Note: This post contains spoilers for Season 3 of “Never Have I Ever,” including the ending.

Ever since its debut, “Never Have I Ever” has earned its spot in the teen TV hall of fame.

The series opens with 15-year-old Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) on a mission to bang Paxton (Darren Barnet), the hottest kid in school, while not getting distracted by her frenemy Ben (Jaren Lewison), growing anger issues, and the fresh pain of her dad’s (Sendhil Ramamurthy) sudden death. Thus begins a heartwarming, horny story of adolescent growth, narrated by tennis legend John McEnroe. The show stands out for a number of reasons: A dynamite lead actress, South Asian cast and authentic storytelling, love stories that never quit, and nonstop jokes.

“Our star is really a special person,” co-creator Lang Fisher told IndieWire of Ramakrishnan, who plays Devi. “She’s so phenomenal and she really brings an X factor to the show.”

Season 3 continues Devi’s journey in processing her father’s death while also trying to find fulfilling romantic relationships with the motley crew of guys at her high school.

“We were trying to tell a tale this season about Devi coming into her own, finding her own self confidence and belief in herself,” Fisher said. It’s a subtle journey which includes romantic mainstays like Paxton and Ben, as well as new guy Des (Anirudh Pisharody), plus a sudden time jump and a twist ending no one saw coming — except, that is, slow-burn romance lovers.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

IndieWire: What are some of the teen TV and film inspirations for “Never Have I Ever?”

Lang Fisher: Mindy [Kaling] and I both love the stuff that came out when we were teens. There’s your classic like “My So-Called Life and “Dawson’s Creek,” that we watched, but there’s so much great teen content now — especially Netflix has a ton of it… We try to make our shows like three shows in one. We try to hit all those classic teen marks, but at the same time we also want to make it a hard comedy because that’s where Mindy and I both come from. And then we also want it to have a little bit of family drama with the grief story and the multi-generational household and those relationships. There’s a bunch of influences.

How do you balance those different tones and still stress making it funny above all?

Everyone in our room is a trained comedy writer. We want a bunch of jokes on every page of the script. Finding those moments where we are like, “Maybe we will take a couple jokes out to make a more poignant scene,” and “the scene maybe will have not that much dialogue and we’ll put some cool music behind it” — “The Mindy Project” had those moments too, because it was a romantic comedy — but those are the things that are a little newer to us in terms of writing it.

In the sort of pantheon of teen film and TV, what do you think makes this show special?

There’s not a ton of teen comedies. There’s a lot of teen dramas, where it’s like a lot of feels — just drama. We’ve also never seen a lead like Devi. In American TV there’s really never been another South Asian young woman who’s led a show like this.

When Mindy and I opened up this casting call we got like 15,000 applicants who applied to be to be Devi, and she just really stuck out to us because while she hadn’t done anything professionally, she was just so naturally funny in this way that kind of reminded us of a young Jonah Hill. She just was so rough around the edges, she kind of had Bart Simpson energy in a funny way, and she was so cute and quick and charismatic. She’s become this excellent actor. When she’s on set she’s such a professional, she’s more of a pro than a lot of our adult guest actors.

Tell me about introducing multiple love interests for Devi, specifically outside of Ben and Paxton.

Well, we thought it’s Season 3, it’s probably time to see another hunk. Otherwise you’re just ping ponging around in the love triangle, so it’s nice to see another beautiful face. It also is nice to present a little bit of a threat to those other guys, and Des is a real threat. As one of the other guys says, he’s like a combination of the two of them. He’s smart like Ben and really driven, but he’s hot and socially at ease like Paxton, and to boot he’s Indian, so he’s just this perfect package, seemingly, for her.

I saw the casting announcement for Michael Cimino joining Season 4 as another hunk.

Yeah, he will be another hunk. I can’t say anything else besides that.

You mentioned ping ponging between the love triangle — how do you sustain that triangle and a will they/won’t they without it getting stale?

There is still the ping ponging because there’s still the triangle, but I feel like just to mix it up you want to add a new person. But I’ve always had — I said this Season 1 — a dream of having a love triangle where no one is a clear winner, like you don’t know from the beginning who will come out victorious. I always reference “Twilight,” but it’s like, she’s not gonna go with the werewolf. She’s gonna become a vampire. I always wanted to make one where you could really argue for either, and me along with Mindy, we switch teams a lot. There will be an ultimate choice at the end of the series, but it’s my great dream to keep that tension alive on both sides for the whole series.

Do you tend to lean more Team Paxton or Team Ben?

I now have a side but I can’t reveal to you what it is because we did make a choice. I’m now squarely on a side but I really couldn’t decide for a long time. It was also just what is the most interesting story? We would flip flop between them in terms of being like, “Well, you could have this happen or you could have this happen.” But then we thought of something that we really, really liked and now now we’re squarely on one team.

In Episode 4 there’s a time jump after Devi and Paxton break up. What was the decision behind that?

We’d spent a lot of time in sophomore year. It’s time to move this train forward. And the breakup [with] Paxton was so devastating to her that I think she needed time to process it and get through it before we could introduce this new character. It would have felt weird if he showed up right after they broke up. He wouldn’t have had a real chance unless she had some time.

A teen girl in a long-sleeved maroon dress lays on a couch, looking miserable and wearing a party hat; still from "Never Have I Ever."

“Never Have I Ever”

COURTESY OF NETFLIX

Paxton has graduated. Have we seen the last of him?

No. I can’t tell you what the deal is next season but no, you have not seen the last.

I also really like Devi’s friendships with both Paxton and Ben, and Season 3 does a great job exploring that as well.

What we hope to achieve by the end of this series is that no one is just in a box, no one is just one thing. Paxton is not just a hunk who has no brain, he has depth to him. He’s a person who has insecurities and has dreams and wants, and Ben is not just an asshole who has a chip on his shoulder. He has his own insecurities and he has his own heart and things that he really cares about and is a sweet guy when he lets his guard down. The nice thing about seeing them all be friends is you really get to know them as people rather than these types.

Did you always have a plan for the Season 3 finale, for that moment between Devi and Ben?

We had different versions of [that moment]. We start her in the place that she’s kind of been in for the first couple of seasons, where she’s a member of the U.N. and doesn’t feel worthy of her boyfriend and she feels insecure and a dork. Throughout the season, you see her start to outgrow those feelings a bit. We were hoping at the end to have a moment where she makes a choice, not out of this low-status desperation, but a real choice that comes from her heart and inside of her.

We followed Ben this season also becoming a little less insecure and figuring out how to be happy and making some more grown up choices for himself, and then we see him reveal these feelings to her at at the end. That’s when she realizes that she isn’t this low-status nerd and she’s not this kid who will be great in the future — when her life is better and she has a hot boyfriend and she’s at a cool college, that’s when it will all happen for her. She realizes it’s happening for her right now, and is very moved by what he says.

What did you want to accomplish and set up with the Season 3 finale?

What we would like to do is to show that Devi is growing up. The first two-and-a-half seasons of the show is a different Devi than what we’re gonna move forward to. She in her senior year will be a character who’s less obsessed with popularity, is less obsessed with her status in that way, and is making more grownup decisions — like showing up with a boink card.

What are you thinking about as you approach Season 4, which will be the final season?

We want to make sure we really give all of these characters a great send off and that when our fans watch the show they feel satisfied by where we’ve landed them. It’s just gonna be a really epic senior year. I think it’s [going to] be really fun for people to see where these characters go.

“Never Have I Ever” Seasons 1-3 are now streaming on Netflix.

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