Never Have I Ever
By Joyce Slaton,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Drinking, language, sex talk in fresh, charming teen series.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this TV show.
Teens learn to self-actualize and reject shallow methods of shoring up their confidence over the course of this series. Messages of integrity and self-control come as characters make mistakes and then learn better ways to treat each other and to navigate their own lives.
Positive Role Models
Devi is wonderfully complicated: contrarian, sometimes nasty to her mom and other adults, yearning, and emotionally honest, with admirable inner strength. Adults are given ample screen time and are treated respectfully (not always the case in teen dramas). Devi's mom deals with her own grief, and therapist Dr. Ryan gives Devi compassionate, clear-eyed advice. Paxton may be a stereotypical "popular guy" on the outside, but he struggles with insecurity like any other teen.
Indian American TV show leads are rare, and Devi makes a great one: She's complex and has admirable inner strength. Ethnicity isn't the main focus of her character, but viewers do see important reminders of it -- e.g., she prays to Hindu gods, and her older immigrant cousin grapples with potential arranged marriage. Mental health (Devi sees a therapist) and grief are major themes. Cast has extensive diversity, including love interests who are mixed-race, Jewish, and Indian. Devi's close friends are Chinese American, Afro-Latina, and Muslim. (Behind the scenes, the show was created by Indian American writer/actress Mindy Kaling.) Same-sex relationships take place throughout the series and are treated naturally. Kamala encounters sexism in her PhD biology program. A main character's sister has Down syndrome but is defined by her love of fashion, not by her disability. All of that said, the show does mishandle some key things. In particular, Devi's temporary paralysis before suddenly walking again falls into the "miraculous cure" cliche, and there are ongoing fatphobic jokes about a minor recurring character.
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Violence & Scariness
The death of Devi's father is shown repeatedly in flashbacks; he's seen collapsing, his wife screaming for an ambulance, then he's limp on a gurney. He also appears in dreams to give his daughter advice. Devi's acceptance of his death plays a major role in the story. One character hits another lightly during an argument; he threatens to sue. Someone is hit by a car and injured (no blood); they wear a cast for several episodes. A character has a panic attack.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Sex talk is graphic and frank: A character schemes to lose her virginity (which she refers to as "popping my cherry" and being "ready to bone"). A male character repeatedly removes his shirt and is admired by girls, who say (out of his earshot) that he looks like he's "smuggling a pepper grinder." Teens use stuffed animals to demonstrate sexual positions, calling out names like "reverse cowgirl" and "love seat." There are jokes about "boinking," watching "teenage boobs bouncing around," foot fetishes, and other mature material. On-screen kissing and flirting, which eventually turns into sex (not depicted) in later seasons.
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Frequent swearing includes "s--t," "hell," "damn," "goddamn." A boy calls a group of girls "unf--kable," and a teen calls her mom a "bitch." Other words that make an appearance: "d--k," "boobs," "frigging," "sucked," "suck it." A teen struggling with anxiety is called "crazy."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Teens drink at parties, in one scene scheming to provide alcohol for a school group. At a party, Devi drinks to the point of drunkenness and winds up injured after making a fool of herself. In one scene, Devi urges her therapist to prescribe her drugs like Paxil and Klonopin. A few characters mention weed.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Never Have I Ever is a series (co-created by Mindy Kaling) about an Indian American teen girl who's mourning the death of her father. Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) learns to be more emotionally honest and to accept her grief as she navigates typical teen problems related to friendship, school, and romance. Expect lots of mature talk about sex (referred to as "boinking" and "boning," etc.). Teens scheme to have sex, but it takes multiple seasons before anyone actually winds up having it (off-screen). They do kiss, flirt, and talk about boyfriends, girlfriends, and romance. They also talk about characters' looks and bodies, including a scene in which girls say a boy looks like he's "smuggling a pepper grinder" under his pants. In another scene, teens use stuffed animals to demonstrate sexual positions, which they name ("reverse cowgirl," "love seat," etc.). Various teens grapple with their sexuality and work through it in healthy ways. Teens smoke pot and drink, at times to the point of acting foolish and leading to an injury that requires hospitalization. A girl urges her therapist to prescribe drugs including Klonopin and Paxil (the therapist doesn't). Violence is infrequent, but there are repeated flashbacks of a character's death (no blood or gore), someone has a panic attack, and one character hits another during an argument. Language is frequent and includes "s--t," "hell," "damn," and "goddamn." A boy calls a group of girls "unf--kable," and a girl calls her mom a "bitch." Instances of ableism and fatphobia are flaws in a series that's otherwise great for representation, especially for Indian Americans. The show's multicultural group of teens are capable of great integrity and self-control: They make mistakes and learn from them, they treat others unkindly and then regret their actions and make amends. They also learn how to accept each other and live more authentic, happy lives.
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Never Have I Ever
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What's the Story?
Created by Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher (The Mindy Project), NEVER HAVE I EVER stars Maitreyi Ramakrishnan as Devi, a 15-year-old Indian American girl in Southern California who's been through a rough year. She's invisible to boys -- unless they want to mock her, like her chief rival Ben (Jaren Lewison) does nonstop -- she hangs out with a crew that other students find irredeemably nerdy, and, worst of all, she's only recently recovered from a bout of possibly psychosomatic paralysis that landed her in a wheelchair for months following her father's untimely death. With unfathomable pain lying just beneath the ordinary slings and arrows of teen life, Devi fixes on a solution: If she loses her virginity to hottest-guy-at-school Paxton (Darren Barnet), surely she'll finally be cool in the eyes of her classmates, and then she'll experience true happiness.
Is It Any Good?
Sex-obsessed teens are nothing new in entertainment, but sex is just a cover for what the leads in this fresh, charming series are really seeking: love, acceptance, and validation. When we meet Devi, it's on the first day of her sophomore year of high school, fresh from having endured incredible pain and humiliation as a freshman. Chief among her woes is the untimely death of her father, an event that Never Have I Ever shows viewers in flashbacks that emphasize the horror Devi is hiding under layers of easier-to-take pain, like the embarrassment of belonging to a social niche that Devi's nemesis calls the U.N. (which stands for "unf--kable nerds"). Devi knows she's not happy. But rather than dive into a pool of unfathomable grief, she'd much rather focus on more typical teen angst and worry about boys and being cool.
Thus Never Have I Ever, like Devi, has depths that are barely papered over with plot lines about parties and romantic misunderstandings, problems at school, and fights with her mom. Underneath these everyday concerns lurks a terrible sadness, but on the surface Devi is a regular TV teen who worries whether her outfit's cool enough and hesitates to approach the boy she likes when he's hanging out at the "Hot Pocket" (where all the cutest, coolest boys at school sit at lunchtime). The moments when Devi and this show get real, though, are remarkable for their sincerity. When Devi blows off her therapist's suggestion that they discuss her father's death in favor of impressing upon Dr. Ryan (Niecy Nash) just how desirable Paxton is, the doctor gently reminds her that Paxton is also a person with feelings and problems -- and that instead of focusing on losing her virginity, Devi has the option of finding something to succeed at that will give her a more genuine and lasting happiness. At such moments, Never Have I Ever truly shines. By weaving fun and forgettable teen antics with true sincerity, this show rises above teen cliches and becomes something more than the sum of its parts.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about how Never Have I Ever portrays teens and their struggles. Are Devi, Ben, Paxton, and other leads believable characters? What do you think of their attempts to use sex, romance, and alcohol to deal with their problems? What are some more constructive ways of coping? Is it a problem to depict underage drinking on TV shows?
Devi's mother is a strong central character who has lost her husband, Devi's father. Why do you think parents are often absent in stories about teens and young children? What types of storytelling would the presence of parents inhibit? What types of dilemmas do children and teens find themselves in when they must act as their own authority? What drama does Devi's father's death add to this show? Is it realistic?
How does Devi demonstrate integrity and self-control? Are there ever moments when she shows the opposite of these traits? Why do you think these are important character strengths?
How does this series depict female friendships? Do you and your friends have similar relationships?
How does Never Have I Ever represent an Indian-American family? Have you seen this kind of diversity on other shows?
- Premiere date: April 24, 2020
- Cast: Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Jaren Lewison, Darren Barnet
- Network: Netflix
- Genre: Comedy
- Topics: High School
- Character Strengths: Integrity, Self-control
- TV rating: TV-14
- Award: Common Sense Media Award
- Last updated: April 11, 2023
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Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.
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