Monday, April 27, 2020

REVIEW: 'Never Have I Ever' - Devi Deals with Family Trauma By Becoming Fixated on Getting a Boyfriend in 'Pilot'

Netflix's Never Have I Ever - Episode 1.01 "Pilot"

After recent trauma, Devi starts her first day as a high school sophomore determined to shake off old labels and finally become cool.

In 2019, the television industry aired 532 scripted shows across numerous outlets. The way people consume content now is different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, it's less necessary to provide ample coverage of each episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site provides shorter episodic reviews in order to cover as many shows as possible. With all of that being said, here are my thoughts on the series premiere of Netflix's Never Have I Ever.

"Pilot" was written by Mindy Kaling & Lang Fisher and directed by Tristram Shapeero

Devi feels as if the world perceives her as the girl whose father died and then pretended her legs no longer worked. She wants to change that perception immediately on the first day of sophomore year in high school. The audience doesn't see her in that way though. Of course, her perception may even be harsher. She comes across as the hot headed sociopath whose fixation on one thing can cause so many disruptions to many other things that she loves. She is essentially untethered in life. Her reality has been shaken. It's easy for people to see the comedy of her sudden inability to walk. However, it was a genuine experience for her. It was a physical manifestation of her grief over losing her father. Now that she can walk again, that grief may be coming out in new ways like having extremely vivid dreams of her father. But she also believes full-heartedly that she has to change her perception in order for people to see her as something more. She places her validity as a person on all of that. It is all about being popular and cool. She believes having a boyfriend is the objective that will allow all of that to come true for her and her friends. She absolutely includes Fabiola and Eleanor in her scheming. However, their interior lives don't necessarily line up with what Devi wants to accomplish this year. Devi believes that she can order others into doing what she believes is best. Her trauma is more valid than whatever is going on elsewhere. Her pain is the most significant in the room. It's clear right away that Kamala is unsure about an arranged marriage. In that moment though, Devi only perceives it as yet another example of Kamala not having to do anything in order to be seen as a great human being. Devi lacks that sense of empathy and clarity. And yes, it all does come across as typical teenage angst and naivety. She wants to believe that these things are important. As such, she is very caught up in her own world. That reality can extend into people's adult lives as well. It's so unusual that John McEnroe is narrating this story. It is such a strange choice because he doesn't immediately come across as someone who can do justice to the life of a first generation Indian American teenage girl. It's odd but the show suggests that Devi and John McEnroe have the same fighting spirit. Of course, John's anger on the tennis court is used an example for how to act in life. That may be a dated reference to some. But it also highlights the behavior that is frequently tolerated in grown men but made to feel unbecoming for woman from a young age. Devi is told that she is special and beautiful. She is unique just like John McEnroe. She has the right to exist and stand out just as much as he did. She can accomplish great things. She just doesn't always have that appreciation for what others are doing. When she learns that Eleanor already has a boyfriend, she isn't happy for her friend. Instead, she is quick to feel betrayed over her friends keeping this secret from her. It further validates the point that she is the one with a problem. Fabiola and Eleanor don't have to change anything in their lives in order to achieve a more typical and normal high school experience as defined by Devi. And yes, Devi immediately rushes to a new goal of just having sex. She views that as the positive thing that can offer growth and a new perspective in her life. She believes it will be the turning point that will change her entire existence around. It won't be that. It has to be personal. Otherwise, it could be quite destructive to her sense of self worth and value. That is already teetering on an edge. It's great that she is in therapy. She doesn't quite know how to process her emotions in a healthy way. Sometimes that behavior goes for the hard joke that leads to big laughs. Other times, it is scary to watch as Devi grows more unhinged. And yet, it's still pretty entertaining to watch even though every plot beat seems narrated too much. The balance of tone and character details has to be perfectly calibrated in order to work. It's already clear that co-creator Mindy Kaling is stretching her creative instincts a little here with a more earnest and sentimental tone. But the outrageousness is still present that provides a sheer sense of lunacy that can propel stories forward too.