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Coming Of Age In 2021: Teen Romance, Relationships And Grief In Netflix’s ‘Never Have I Ever’

A South Asian teen girl sits at a high school desk with a cute boy on either side of her. Both boys are looking at her while she looks uncomfortable.
Isabella B. Vosmikova/Netflix
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In Season 2 of 'Never Have I Ever,' teen Devi (middle) finds herself in a love triangle with brainy Ben (left) and hunky Paxton (right).

The antics of teenager Devi Vishwakumar are center stage in the Netflix series 'Never Have I Ever'...with lessons on family and grief amidst the drama of high school.

Devi Vishwakumar is kind of a hot mess. She unsuccessfully tries to date two boys at once, starts rumors that get her into tons of trouble...and struggles to look head on at the pain underneath all of it: she’s grieving the loss of her father.

Devi is the teenager at the center of the comedy-drama “Never Have I Ever,” co-written and co-produced by Mindy Kaling. The second season dropped on Netflix last Thursday, and it's holding steady as one of the most popular Netflix shows around the world.

So what is it about this coming of age story that’s so captivating?

Host Anita Rao talks with Aanika Eragam, a writer and rising senior at Milton High School, about how Devi’s experience resonates with her own as an Indian-American teenager. Linde Murugan is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication and Media Studies at Fordham University. She has written about Asian American film and television for The Platform and the Los Angeles Review of Books. She and journalist Shivani Persad discuss depictions of sexuality, romance and family in the second season of the series.

Interview Highlights

Aanika Eragam on the depiction of teenage dating in the context of Indian American families:

Stigma around dating, around exploring your sexuality — it definitely exists. Even today, and even in my family, my friends’ families. So, I think the show honestly, just seeing [Devi] in a relationship on TV is just so different, even just from real life. I don't have a lot of Indian friends who've been in relationships at this age, and I have not either so, you know, seeing it on TV at least opens up a conversation. Definitely the few glimpses of the episodes that my mom also caught me watching — definitely had some sort of conversations like: Oh, okay, so there's this Indian girl on TV who's dating and stuff.

Linde Murugan on the intergenerational relationships depicted on the show:

This season of “Never Have I Ever” is very much indebted to the history of the after school special. Teen television is often working in this world where teenagers are separate from their parents, and parents are not helpful. And in “Never Have I Ever,” you can kind of see parents and grandparents are often really helpful for these teens and kind of clarifying and giving them perspective. … And I also felt this tenderness in seeing Pati and Nalini and Devi’s kind of intimacy.

Shivani Persad on how the show portrayed a single mother and her interracial relationship:

It's interesting seeing [Nalini] learning what it's like to be a single mother not by choice. And I think my favorite thing about it was seeing her explore this dating, and dating another person of color who isn’t Indian. It's quite a taboo thing for us, usually, and I love that they just didn't even address it. It was just a thing. They just let it happen. … It was just like: Nope, she's just an older woman and it doesn't matter that she's an immigrant. It doesn't matter that she's dating someone who isn’t Indian. She just is. And that's one of my favorite parts about her character and about the season.

Kaia Findlay is a producer for Embodied, WUNC's weekly, live talk show on health, sex and relationships. Kaia first joined the WUNC team in 2020 as a producer for The State of Things.
Anita Rao is an award-winning journalist and the host and creator of "Embodied," a live, weekly radio show and seasonal podcast about sex, relationships & health. She's also the managing editor of WUNC's on-demand content.