Kalpana Mohanty for Bobblehaus
Mindy Kaling’s new Netflix series Never Have I Ever begins with fifteen-year-old Devi Vishwakumar praying to her statue of Ganesh: “I’d like to be invited to a party with alcohol and hard drugs. I don’t actually plan on doing them, I just want to be able to say, no cocaine for me, thanks I’m good.”
Never Have I Ever seems to have launched a thousand think pieces — or at least become the topic of much discussion among young South Asians in the past few weeks. The series, released on Netflix on April 27th, tells the story of a teenage Devi Vishwakumar and the trials and tribulations of her life in Sherman Oaks, California one year after her father tragically passed away from a heart attack at her school concert. Devi’s life appears to revolve around trying to become perceived as cooler at school, losing her virginity, and getting in Princeton — all narrated by tennis champion John McEnroe.
The series is worth analysis — not just because of the content of its ten episodes but more so due to the dialogue that surrounds it. What does it mean to create a TV show about a diasporic teenager, and what, if any, are the responsibilities that Kaling has in exploring this territory? To what extent should Devi’s life be contextualized by her South Asian heritage, and to what extent is having a teenage girl praying to Ganesh for a boyfriend and an invitation to a party with alcohol gimmicky?
Upon first glance, the show appears to be a simple reimagination of the high school sitcom, with a cast of recognizable, albeit more diverse characters. The first few episodes are slightly grating but entertaining. For those who are remotely familiar with an Indian accent, and in particular a Tamilian accent, it becomes apparent that Kamala (Devi’s attractive cousin from India) and her father sound like a poorly executed imagining of what an Indian accent sounds like. Both characters feel like caricatures of an immigrant Indian — floral sentences abound.
Other uncomfortable moments in the series include a montage of images of India meant to…