WHAT IT'S ABOUT:
The complicated life of a modern-day first-generation Indian American teenage girl, inspired by Mindy Kaling's own childhood.
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
I learned how to thread my lip, my eyebrows, my arms, at a very young age. See, I had a moustache before most of the boys in my grade 7 class. I was an awkward Indian girl – and unlike Devi who looked like an "Indian Kardashian" when she got all dressed up, I looked like Ashley Tisdale in the early 2000s in a pink boa and mini skirt over my jeans. Wow, I'm just now realising my glow up – shout out to me, you've come such a long way.
The girls I grew up seeing on screen were Ashley and the rest of the High School Musical cast, Hilary Duff as Lizzie McGuire and Emma Roberts as Addie Singer in Unfabulous. And while they were all relatively awkward, they didn't look anything like me, so their teen struggles, as unfabulous as it may have been, was a lot different to mine. But Mindy Kaling's new coming-of-age dramedy on Netflix, which sees Devi Vishwakumar (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan), an Indian-American girl tackle everything from boys to arm hair that won't thin out, is a new and refreshing take on the teen sitcom that every Indian girl needs to see.
Maitreyi, who was cast as the lead after Mindy posted an announcement on social media looking for a South Asian woman for the role, gives a charming performance – and one that's believable too. Her scenes with the school heartthrob, her friends (who all have well-developed backstories of their own and are not all white, straight and able-bodied) and her mom (played brilliantly by Poorna Jagannathan who shines as a three-dimensional character and not just the stereotyped immigrant parent), paint her in a relatable light.
Her poor judgement guided solely by her malfunctioning teen brain, and then some, make her a familiar protagonist. And Maitreyi does a perfect job of putting all of Devi's imperfections on display in a way that makes her likeable, even when she's selfish, hotheaded and rude – and spiralling completely out of control. Her final performance in a more vulnerable scene had me bawling my eyes out, and it's not just the Indian girls who'll identify with a lot of the universal themes in the series.
Much of the show's success also has to do with Mindy and co-creator Lang Fisher's comedic genius, because even though it deals with themes of grief and trauma that tug at your heartstrings, the light-hearted approach to it all lets you laugh through all of Devi's missteps. While the character herself and the format are so familiar, so too is the presence of Mindy and Lang when the series delivers the funniest and most relatable one-liners with meaningful appearances by tennis great, John McEnroe (random and yet, makes complete sense later on) and Andy Samberg.
Let's just say when John, who is the narrator of the series, said, "Aunties are older Indian women who have no blood relationship to you but are allowed to have opinions about your life and all your shortcomings, and you have to be nice to them because you're Indian," I almost spat out my chai.
Never Have I Ever is easily Mindy's best series yet, and one I'm sure a young Kelly Kapoor and Mindy Lahiri would appreciate too. It feels like a natural progression for Mindy; the more she produces, the better her work becomes, and perhaps it has to do with the semi-autobiographical aspect that makes it so authentic this time around. Either way, I laughed, and cried, as I watched much of my own pre-glow up, "uggo" and most embarrassing and cringe-worthy teenage years play out on screen. And never have I ever thought I'd say this, but man, I love to see it.
WATCH THE TRAILER HERE