Never Have I Ever Season 2 review: Mindy Kaling doesn’t discount her unique voice, emotional depth for wokeness-Entertainment News , Firstpost

Pop culture jargon aside, what ground Never Have I Ever is the portrait of a protagonist with problematic behaviour and the gaze of quiet compassion that bathes her trajectory.

Language: English

Remember how Season 1 of Never Have I Ever ended? Don’t? Read through our recap.

The Malibu mountains, sky, and sand blended into each other as Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) reconciled with her mom Nalini (Poorna Jagannathan) to spread her dad’s ashes into the sea. His favourite song ‘Beautiful Day’ by U2 amped up the moment, before Devi shared a passionate kiss with her nemesis-turned-lover Ben.

Season 2 starts right there. Nalini interrupts the kiss and mocks Devi, “When I die, you’ll have sex on top of my grave. I hope it’s a closed casket.” That is the tone and zone of Never Have I Ever, the coming-of-age show created and written by Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher. They never let the show get too sappy but ensure that it’s also not just a surface skimmer. They break the emotional high Season 1 left us with the same reflex jerk that Devi cannot help but have whenever life gets marginally smooth for her (does it ever?).

To their credit, unlike Devi or Nalini, who wants her to move to India, Kaling and Fisher know exactly where they want Devi’s life to go in Season 2. With Aaron Geary, Amina Munir, and Ben Steiner among others credited as additional writers and executive story editors, Kaling’s writing room further build on Devi as the unlikeable protagonist you cannot help but root for. She continues to make grave mistakes, often by intention, only to bear the consequences.

Although Nalini suggests to another character in the show that Devi’s questionable actions are an outcome of the crisis they’re going through after her father’s death, the writing never seems to back that argument with narrative arguments. For instance, never has Devi ever wriggled out of a tricky situation she has put herself in without being caught or without being cornered to confess. The degree of the consequence can be debated but all her sins never go unaccounted for.

Secondly, Devi never makes you feel indifferent towards her because of the powerhouse performer that Ramakrishnan is. Season 1 showed that she was a rare find but she only proves her indispensability in Season 2.

While that season was skewed towards probably Kaling’s experience as an Indian-American girl growing up in the US, Ramakrishnan owns the follow-up by carving out a distinct identity for Devi. We no longer see her as a Mindy Kaling gone 2020 but as Devi herself, with her own whims, quirks, and vulnerabilities. Sample the scene when Devi, with virgin innocence intact, tells Paxton and Ben, “But I like you both,” when she is caught double dating, or playing doubles as narrator John McEnroe puts it. A lesser actor could not have pulled that off — the virgin innocence I mean, not the double dating — that’s not virgin at all.

As long as Devi is the pivot, Never Have I Ever Season 2 remains thoroughly engaging and occasionally exciting. But with this season, Kaling and Co try to branch into the arcs of the other characters that hover around Devi. And this branching out cannot exactly be called blooming.

Never Have I Ever Season 2 review Mindy Kaling doesnt discount her unique voice emotional depth for wokeness

Poorna Jagannathan in Never Have I Ever Season 2

It is lovely to see Jagannathan get ample space to exhibit a wide range of moods — because she can, and how! Season 1 saw her fall prey to the monochromatic mother who is always mocking and ridiculing her daughter. The only break in the comic cacophony was the choke in her voice as she tells Devi in the finale, “Sometimes even I think I should’ve been the one who died.”

Season 2, however, gives her a homecoming she did not expect in India (it’s fun to see her get incessant burns from her own mother), a romantic angle with a fellow dermatologist (played by Common), and chances to be a cool mom. It is the way Jagannathan fills her eyes with tears and smiles when she has to close the door on newfound love, puts on a poker face when being fed South Indian thalis, and switches pitch from concerned to stern towards her daughter that you realise she deserves a spin-off.

Never Have I Ever Season 2 review Mindy Kaling doesnt discount her unique voice emotional depth for wokeness

Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Lee Rodriguez, and Ramona Young in Never Have I Ever Season 2

But the other character arcs do not make you feel as invested. The least of them is Kamala’s (Richa Moorjani). It is certainly novel to place her in a stem cell research lab and battle gender discrimination at workplace (as Devi says, “People don’t know you’re this smart because you’re so hot.”). But that part of the story never takes off and remains a dispensable segue.

Devi’s BFFs Elena Wong (Ramona Young) and Fabiola Torres (Lee Rodriguez) are given minor arcs of their own but both pale in comparison to Devi’s by tints. Young has impeccable comic timing but her relationship with Malcolm Stone (Tyler Alvarez) is only summarised, never explored. The same holds true to an extent for Rodriguez’s arc. The idea of a queer girl feeling lost in the lesbian community is a good start but it is not allotted enough room to thrive.

Never Have I Ever Season 2 review Mindy Kaling doesnt discount her unique voice emotional depth for wokeness

However, the Fabiola arc gives me the right counterargument to the pop culture jargon injected in this show. While it seemed commendable that Season 1 was so fresh off the tawa in terms of its dialogues given that it is based on Kaling’s life in the 1980s, the wokeness often gets too overbearing in Season 2. I would find myself in Fabiola’s shoes and say, “I don’t talk like ‘What’s the tea?'”

References like “He’s the LeBron of stem cell research” and “By the time they realise I have two boyfriends, I’d have busted out like the Road Runner,” are cool. Devi’s Black principal telling her, “If you play the race card on me, I’d Reverse, Draw 4, and UNO you” and calling the Ferrero Rocher pyramid the “Rolex of confection gift boxes for Indians” are brilliant. But the others like “Jodie Fasters” T-shirts for relay race event or Devi commenting on her therapist’s turquoise statement necklace as “Cookie Monster’s turd,” and Elena drawing parallel to a farce-y Molière play, can become too much to take in, particularly when they are delivered at lightning speed.

Never Have I Ever Season 2 review Mindy Kaling doesnt discount her unique voice emotional depth for wokeness

What ground Never Have I Ever is the portrait of a protagonist with problematic behaviour and the gaze of quiet compassion that bathes her trajectory. Her flaws are not justified by woke phrases like “daddy’s issues” or “racism is a b*tch.” As her therapist consoles Devi, she explains, “You’re not crazy. You just feel a lot. And that’s why sometimes, you hurt a lot. But that’s also why you’ll lead an emotionally rich life.” Or how an imaginary conversation with her dad (the perennially huggable Senthil Ramamurthy) echoes into her head, “I call you my perfect girl because you’re perfect to me. And not because I want you to be perfect all the time.”

That rings true at various levels. We don’t want Devi to be perf. And to expect a perf portrait of an imperf character is asking for every woke abbreviation to be expanded. For now, we can celebrate the fact that like Fabiola, Never Have I Ever Season 2 does not discount a unique voice and emotional depth for fitting into the woke circles.

Never Have I Ever Season 2 is streaming on Netflix.

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