TV TATTLE

Never Have I Ever is a great teen comedy that would be even better if it ditched the frustrating voiceovers

  • Gigi Hadid voicing the inner thoughts of heartthrob Paxton Hall-Yoshida -- in place of Chrissy Teigen -- "quickly proves just as flat and unnecessary as (John) McEnroe’s, exposing a frustrating flaw in an otherwise very entertaining teen comedy," says Caroline Framke. The gimmick of McEnroe doing voiceover paid off in Season 1 on an emotional level, says Framke. "Pressing play on the second season, though, I was rather hoping not to hear McEnroe’s voice," says Framke. "After hearing him try to express teenage excitement over the course of 10 episodes, it became clear that his commentating career didn’t necessarily prepare him for one in voiceover, a specific and trickier than meets the eye form of performance that requires more nuance than McEnroe’s flat affect ever grasps. The difference between an actor who knows how to narrate and a person enlisted for the fun of it becomes even more stark in '…been the loneliest boy in the world,' an episode that trades Devi’s inner monologue for that of her school rival Ben (Jaren Lewison), whose pithy voiceover came courtesy of comedian Andy Samberg. At the very least, the Never Have I Ever scripts are self-aware about the jarring clash between the characters and their narrator counterparts. As aforementioned, Hadid immediately admits that she might seem a strange choice to narrate Paxton Hall-Yoshida’s life. Just about every episode sees McEnroe point out how weird it is that he’s the one telling Devi’s story, whether literally or by reacting to her adolescent misadventures with a world-weary sigh. But even these winky moments don’t make up for the inherent disconnect between Devi and her thoughts as relayed by McEnroe. The show can give him a million jokes to milk the oddity of his presence, but he still has to deliver them with something like finesse. The real reason it’s so frustrating to listen to one-note narrators like McEnroe and Hadid, though, is that they’re ultimately unnecessary. Voiceover can be an effective TV tool when used right, but it more often ends up an obvious shortcut for writers to say exactly what their characters are thinking and feeling without letting their viewers figure it out for themselves."

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    • Devi Vishwakumar is the perfect anti-hero: Maitreyi Ramakrishnan's character "is one of the great anti-heroines of the teen comedy-drama genre and the second season of Never Have I Ever solidified it," says Princess Weekes. "Season two of Never Have I Ever came out this weekend, and we were returned to the complicated world of fifteen Devi Vishwakumar, a brilliant Indian girl with a penchant for drama, anger, and not making the best choices for herself." Weekes adds: "Never Have I Ever… is engrossing. Without meaning to, I ended up binging the entire series and being completely enthralling with the bad decisions that Devi was making. There is always this lingering knowledge that Devi knows she is making the harder choice, but she is doing it because manipulation comes more naturally than being genuine. She is always eager to apologize and will go above and beyond. Still, that never stops her from just making the right call at the beginning."
    • The Devi-Aneesa rivalry is the most compelling aspect of Season 2: "There's always been an unspoken paradox of sorts for women, people of color and all marginalized identities, who are often the one, token member of their community in a number of settings," says Kylie Cheung. "Being the only person who represents your community in any given space can be exhausting and lonely — yet, when other members of your community do join you in the space, their presence can feel like a threat, or competition, mostly because traditionally white, male spaces offer so few spots to anyone who's different from them. We've seen echoes of this on The Simpsons when overachiever Lisa Simpson feels threatened by a new girl who is better at everything – school, the saxophone and even dioramas – that Lisa feels makes her unique. And in Kaling's other sitcom, The Mindy Project, her gynecologist character attempts to distance herself from another Asian female candidate going up for the same job. In the case of Never Have I Ever, Devi immediately tries to downgrade Aneesa's social clout with insults and gossip, beginning with her humorously hypocritical comment, 'I get sort of a self-hating Indian vibe from (Aneesa). I bet she doesn't have any Indian friends.' Devi, of course, has none herself."
    • Never Have I Ever works because Devi isn't there to serve as "cultural dressing on a white bread sandwich": "Never have I ever felt so seen by a television show – seen in all of my cross-cultural, problematic, uncomfortable, funny, sad, angry glory," says Zoya Patel. "Never Have I Ever follows Los Angeles teen Devi Vishwakumar (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan), who is navigating all the usual trials and tribulations of being a teenager: dating, identity, popularity, and the demands of her family and cultural life. Devi is Indian-American. But Devi is also so much more than that – she’s obnoxious, precocious, principled, funny, insecure, sweet, and hopelessly out of control when it comes to her emotions. Devi is Indian but she is also a person, not a caricature of an Indian migrant, there to serve as cultural dressing on a white bread sandwich. While Kaling doesn’t shy away from bringing culture into the story – Devi’s cousin Kamala is in the throes of navigating an arranged marriage set-up; Devi has her textbooks blessed at the mandir, which she also attends for Ganesh puja – it isn’t the defining and only driving force behind the show. Instead, much like myself and every other second-generation South Asian migrant I know, Devi’s cultural background is one element of her broader personality and life, which doesn’t in any way detract from or alter her experiences of adolescence as a teen in the western world."
    • Common on joining Never Have I Ever after being a fan: "Last year when everything stood still, I started watching a few shows," he says. "A friend of mine told me to watch Never Have I Ever. It was touching my heart. I watched at least the first five episodes (immediately) and then I couldn't wait to watch the next ones. I was really impacted by how good I felt watching it. It had a lot of things that I love in movies and great TV shows...Yeah, it makes you feel good. I needed that in my life, and I need it now in my life. I can remember the last scene (of Season 1) of Devi going to the ocean, that really was moving to me. Some of the lessons and things she was dealing with, it hit on the truth but it also was very feel-good and inspiring." Common recalled hearing from his manager about Mindy Kaling wanting to meet with him about a part. "I got super happy, I was telling my friends who watched it, 'I might be on Never Have I Ever!," he says. "It was sincere joy. I really wanted to be a part of the world and deliver something that was what they envisioned about the character but also give it some other nuances and give him some more heart."
    • Jaren Lewison discusses the Season 2 finale
    • Maitreyi Ramakrishnan discusses the final episodes of Season 2
    • Mindy Kaling on the season finale: "I've watched enough romantic comedies that it's not interesting unless it's constantly shifting and changing"

    TOPICS: Never Have I Ever, Netflix, Common, Gigi Hadid, Jaren Lewison, John McEnroe, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Mindy Kaling




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