Never Have I Ever felt so seen
Representation for awkward teens!
You’re reading Now Streaming, a weekly newsletter from Michael Sun, full of what to watch, read, and consume this weekend. It’s part of Netflix Pause, a publication that’s all about hitting pause to reflect on the latest film and TV. Subscribe now to get three free newsletters in your inbox every week diving into screen culture.
Is there another show that just gets the teen experience like Never Have I Ever? Sure, there are others which represent — metaphorically or otherwise — the high-stakes angst of adolescence (Euphoria, Riverdale), or its chaotic falling-outs and falling-ins (Genera+ion, Gossip Girl), but Never Have I Ever understands that the primary experience of being in high school is just one emotion: awkwardness.
It revels in the awkward, the uncool, the socially outcast, the too-extra, the not-enough, and by doing so, it is literally the most relatable series out there right now. Its second season is out now!
Never Have I Ever S2
A confession: when I watched the first season of Never Have I Ever, I was deep into the job application for this very role. A more honest confession: the only reason I started watching at all was because my interview was in two days, and I needed something — anything — to show off my cultural prowess, that my viewing diet definitely consisted of new and relevant shows and not just mid-2000s movies starring Julianne Moore.
As the cliché goes, though, it felt like...fate? Or if not fate, then at least the extremely accurate and incredibly prescient powers of the Netflix algorithm. Somehow, it knew that my high school self was Devi, Never Have I Ever’s awkward, almost-rebellious 15-year-old lead, torn between her familial obligations and her latent adolescent desire for a “stone-cold hottie who can rock me all night long” — as she prays for in the show’s opening scene. Like Devi, I also prayed at inopportune moments for inappropriate (and inappropriately horny) things — blame my parents for sending me to a Catholic primary school. Like Devi, I also strutted around the school halls swaggering with sassy retorts as if I had any power or clout when, deep down, I was potentially the uncoolest teenager to ever walk this Earth. Like Devi, I even did Model UN for five (five!!!!!) years of my life, which is a long-winded way of saying that I was a nerd who wanted to hook up and drink at alcohol-fuelled conferences but have an ~ intellectual excuse ~ for doing so.
I’m sure I am not alone in pointing at my laptop and screaming “wow, that is literally me” whenever Devi walks on screen. Such is the power of Never Have I Ever — this kind of magic trick that provides any given viewer with some sense of life-changing relatability. Perhaps it’s Devi’s extended Indian family, and her run-ins with a vast swathe of nosy family friends. Or maybe it’s her penchant for having a head-over-heels crush at all times. Or just the sheer red-faced dread of embarrassing yourself in front of an entire house party.
Never Have I Ever maintains this sense of relatability even as its characters are highly specific. Devi has been lauded as a watershed for South Asian representation, in contrast with the tokenistic, thinly painted caricatures of yore. Her best friends are no different: robotics whiz Fabiola is newly out and, this season, struggles with the ins and outs of queer culture (“What’s a Bebe Rexha?” she asks at one point). Meanwhile, theatre kid Eleanor is melodramatic as ever as a tense family dynamic quietly simmers underneath.
Season two picks up right where the last one left off: Devi and her family have just scattered her dad’s ashes, and two boys are simultaneously after her — frenemy and fellow Model UN enthusiast Ben and aforementioned stone-cold hottie Paxton. Suddenly, she has the very enviable problem of two boyfriends. Also, she may or may not be moving to India forever. Also also, there’s a new girl — who’s Indian-American too — at school and Devi realises she might not be the only sheriff in town.
Never Have I Ever ties together its horniest fantasies (see above: a nerd having two boyfriends) with its deepest excavations of the POC experience (see above: the weird, inexplicable threat posed by another POC of the same background in the same space who you should express solidarity with but instead just end up feeling strangely maligned and unsure of your own identity). Across both, it wields the uncanny ability to make anyone — and everyone — feel seen.
Both seasons of Never Have I Ever are now streaming.
Watch these too:
To All The Boys, a trilogy that needs no introduction — like Never Have I Ever, it has that kind of knack for teen storytelling which makes very specific, underrepresented stories feel universal.
The Half of It, the gold standard of tender, resonant teen movies (and when I say tender and resonant I mean ‘about a nerd who’s best friends with their English teacher but suddenly finds themselves embroiled in a bisexual love triangle where they’re ghost-writing love letters from one person to another’, so basically my aspiration).
Eighth Grade, Bo Burnham’s directorial debut about an aspiring middle school vlogger which shares with Never Have I Ever a love of those awkward, unintentionally hilarious, and all-too-relatable cringe moments that make up early adolescence.
I can’t stop thinking about:
This playlist called ‘Owen Wilson walking through an art museum’.......wow. Yes this makes two playlists in two weeks — will this become a regular segment? Stay tuned to find out.
Ashley Olsen (of Mary-Kate & Ashley fame) on a hike in the Pacific Northwest with a drink in one hand and a MACHETE in the other. As Susan Sontag said: “To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s mortality.” In this case, the mortality is my own because I am dead after seeing this photo.
Side note: is this the spiritual successor to Carly Rae Jepsen holding a sword at Lollapalooza? My sources (my brain worms) say yes.
Talking about successors, this incredibly bold and ultimately correct claim that I Think You Should Leave is just the natural evolution of Amanda Bynes’ 1999-2002 sketch comedy series The Amanda Show. (My response.) She was the blueprint!
Olivia Rodrigo wearing a vintage pink Chanel two-piece to the White House. Marge Simpson’s impact…
And apropos of nothing, four images of Tilda Swinton holding co-stars’ hands at film festivals:
Tilda Swinton hold my hand challenge.