Friday, July 16, 2021

REVIEW: 'Never Have I Ever' - Paxton Grows Determined to Prove He Can Rise Above Low Expectations in '...opened a textbook'

Netflix's Never Have I Ever - Episode 2.03 "...opened a textbook"

Making good grades has never been a priority for Paxton - until a mishap urges him to prove he's more than a campus heartthrob and star swimmer.

In 2020, the television industry aired 493 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 next episode of Netflix's Never Have I Ever.

"...opened a textbook" was written by Erica Oyama and directed by Kim Nguyen

It's more satisfying when someone works hard to earn something. It shows how much they care and are determined to succeed. Swimming has always come naturally for Paxton. But now, his entire future is in limbo after being hit by a car. He was bruised both physically and emotionally upon learning that Devi was also dating Ben. That makes no sense to him either. He doesn't know what Devi could possibly see in Ben. Paxton's good looks have always been enough to charm any girl. He also genuinely cared about Devi. He was invested in this relationship. He was deceived about what it actually was. And now, he has the freedom to set new terms. It comes from him needing Devi's help. He believes that she owes him for the pain she has caused. She accepts that immediately too. She is willing to do his homework for him. The story ultimately pivots around Paxton wanting to prove to everyone that he is capable of so much more than they think. Everyone has such low expectations for him because everything has always just been given to him. He has never had to work hard to achieve anything. He could have gotten a scholarship to Stanford without ever opening a textbook. It was all based on his excellence as a swimmer. With that now gone, he has nothing in his life. Going to college means something to him though. It's what he wants to do. He had lofty expectations because of his life as an athlete. His options are much more limited now. He is expected to adjust accordingly. And yet, he is still deserving of dreaming big. This is something he can make happen. It's all determined based on how hard he wants to work. He has the necessary leverage to leave Devi continually feeling bad for him and willing to do his homework. He also wants to feel proud for what he accomplishes. He wants to prove the world wrong on his own merits. It's a celebration when he can finally get a B on a history test. All he had to do was put in the work. He is more than what so many people want to limit him as. This provides the character with more depth as well. That too was necessary as the series develops. Of course, it's incredibly annoying that all of these intricate character details have to be spelled out to the audience through narration. That has always been a foundational quality of the series. John McEnroe narrates Devi's story. Andy Samberg does the same for Ben. And now, Gigi Hadid can be heard detailing Paxton's life. All of this is meant to showcase the obsession of celebrities within youth culture while also connecting to human issues that seemingly bring everyone together. It's a stylistic flourish meant to detail the specific world these characters live in. It's not the most honest or authentic though. It's mostly just a chance to show off who the creative team can get to do these roles. Moreover, the actual narrative structure means the audience doesn't have to do the hard work ourselves. Everything will be explained to us about the emotional well-beings of these characters. It doesn't have to come across solely through the acting and how the viewer understands these characters on a deeper level. That means all of this is more shallow than it has the intention of being. It should hit hard when Paxton celebrates his accomplishment. He finds a new dynamic with Devi. She will continue to tutor him. She positions it as being his Indian mother. He's right to think that's a confusing way to define their relationship. The actual merits of the bond though do inspire meaningful action. Moreover, Paxton still delivers this observation about what they've become cruelly in saying they never would have worked as a couple anyway. He is diminishing what was in order to avoid dealing with the pain of the central betrayal. This is complicated and personal storytelling. The depth can just get lost because the show needs narrators to dictate which stories are important and how the characters react from any given moment to the next. It's exhausting without adding much value. Fortunately, the characters shine to the point where the show can be charming regardless of this device. Of course, this also establishes the pattern that the audience should only expect one episode each season in which the focus shifts away from Devi to a member of the ensemble who will have a recognizable voice of a celebrity providing new context to their life. That's not what the expectation should be exactly though. It's still what has become apparent now.