By now, we've all seen at least one season of Netflix's Never Have I Ever. Or as I like to call it, Devi's Rage Fest. Don't get me wrong, Indian representation is great and all. But I certainly think it could be, well, different. For starters, (and this is applicable to a lot of shows) the dialogue. The cheesiness is quite ridiculous, and the references to what's known as "Gen-Z humor" isn't as well done as they might like to think, given that it was written by a bunch of people in their 40's. Sometimes I wonder if they just watch a bunch of Tiktoks and paraphrase the humor on there.
And then you have the ridiculous situations. Also applicable to a lot of other shows, so no hate to Mindy Kaling there. Is it really necessary to have a girl lose her father and then also be paralyzed, only to be freed from her prison by a "dreamy guy?" And then, of course, the love triangles, rivals, and LGBTQ side characters (ironic that there's a cliche in a show that's meant to be unique). But this show goes above and beyond, with multiple car crashes, extensive levels of stalking, and people that seem to have a very high tolerance for crazy (aka everyone that knows Devi).
However, I'm not here to disparage the plot line of Never Have I Ever. Granted I've been doing that for 2 paragraphs, but I swear that's not the goal. The basic idea of the show is putting an Indian-American at the forefront, and showing that they lead lives worth talking about, worth filming, and worth idolizing as we do so many Caucasian film characters: Regina George, etc. etc. The problem is, I don't think the show does that effectively. And honestly, causes more problems than it solves.
For one, Devi's mindless antics and social dilemmas are meant to reflect "normal" problems that every teenager goes through. But, they don't. Can someone, Indian or not, tell me the last time they stalked their parent's coworker by climbing into a roof? Or tried to date two people who were in the same class as you? I've heard a lot of "Devi is just every teenager's thoughts spelled out into a character." Well, there's a reason they remain thoughts. And promoting this level of insanity as normal is probably not the best message.
Now for the blatant stereotypes. The show has both Devi's mom, dad, and cousin with thick Indian accents that first-generation immigrant parents don't always have. It also exemplifies her as the typical nerd, which is sometimes true: Indians are known to prioritize academics over other activities and socializing. Believe me, as an Indian-American, I'm familiar with the household. However, I do think that exaggerating her interest in academics just alienates the average Indian-American even further. Aren't there Indian students who might also like sports, like music, more than academics? Can't an Indian-American be the life of the party, instead of a wannabe? Sure, you could argue that you have Aneesa for that, but she really serves to emphasize the Indian rituals and niceties that are supposedly observed in every such household. I can tell you, my mother does not care if my friends compliment the house or not.
Then comes the flawed interpretation of Hinduism. One of the very first scenes showed Devi praying for good grades and a good social life, (mixed up the order of importance of those two) and her mother very distressed about a textbook falling to the ground. It's not ideal, but all Indian-Americans don't get their textbooks blessed.
In fact, one of the few aspects I would have thought this show would try and get right is the religion of Hinduism and the role it plays in the lives of those that follow it. I'm sure many of you are familiar with the NASA tweet, and the backlash it received just because of an intern whose desk had multiple statues of Hindu gods and goddesses. The comments were filled with "Science and mythology don't mix," and "why do Hindu's believe more in God than in science?" The fact is, if you go up to a random person and asked them what they know about Hinduism, they'll probably mention the Kama Sutra, or vaguely reference Buddha. It's one of the least understood religions, because it's not always in the limelight like Islam, Judaism, and Christianity tend to be.
I'm not going to go on a discourse of Hinduism, but I will say that Never Have I Ever had great opportunity to enlighten more of the population, but instead they propagated stereotypes that only make Indian-Americans and their ancestors seem even more removed.
Feminism is the real, (and only) good part of this show. Devi's headstrong attitude, Kamala's beauty and brains, and her mother's independence with her practice and decisions are what anyone can take from these 2 seasons.
Hopefully there will be more from the 3rd, but it's a long shot. Although, that's what Devi thought her chances were with Paxton, so who knows?