Figuring out life and love is messy: Never Have I Ever (season 2) review

(image courtesy IMP Awards (c) Netflix)

It was those Swedish musical poets who once sagely observed, somewhere around 1973, that “Love Isn’t Easy But it Sure is Hard Enough”. with the song going on to observe that:

“We gotta have patience, love isn’t just a sensation
Some of the time it gets rough
Love isn’t easy but it sure is hard enough
(Sweet sweet, our love is bittersweet)

Give in, love is a reason for living
But a few things can be tough
Love isn’t easy but it sure is hard enough
(Sweet, sweet, our love is bittersweet)”

Now you may wonder what the newly-resurgent Swedish supergroup could have to say that would be relevant to a young Indian woman still at high school in Sherman Oaks, California, one Devi Vishwakumar (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) but it turns out quite a lot.

For young Devi, who her classmates have unkindly but perhaps somewhat accurately even she admits upon some painful self examination, “Crazy Devi” (yep, teenagers, subtle as ever), wants nothing more than to find love, find some peace with her mother, Nalini (Poorna Jagannathan) and an abiding sense that she fits in and is unconditionally loved and cared for.

Not so different from the rest of us, right?

The problem for poor sweet, well-meaning but impulsive Devi, and to be fair she is a teenager struggling with her dad’s untimely death and life on the margins of the cool kids with besties Elinor Wong (Ramona Young) and Fabiola Torres (Lee Rodriguez), is that she very rarely executes on her lofty dreams of love, romance and the whole shebang.

That’s partly because she is, yes, in many ways still an kid, with all the lack of life skills and emotional maturity that implies, but it’s also because she is rather partial, and humourously so much of the time (though there’s a whole of misery and existential angst thrown in there too), to flying in the face of good common sense and judgement.

And that is not necessarily a teenage thing.

(image courtesy IMP Awards (c) Netflix)

Fabiola and Elinor seem to get it right more than Devi does but then they are both a little more grounded, even if they are, like everyone in their year at high school, still figuring out the ins and outs of life which are many and complex, and pssst no one tell them, are likely to dog them in one form or another for the rest of their life.

In season 2 of Better Late Than Ever, Mindy Kaling’s wonderfully funny, heartfelt and richly authentic take on life for one Indian girl growing up in multicultural America in particular (based on the creator’s own life) and for teenagers in general, all of whom are messy but lovable works in progress, Elinor and Fab, as she’s affectionately known, get it right more than they don’t.

Fabiola is out and proud and has a gorgeous, supportive and living girlfriend in Eve (Christina Kartchner) but is finding it tricky navigating being both a newly-out lesbian and a robotics geek, while Elinor is an aspiring actress who finds herself with a boyfriend, then another boyfriend, neither of whom quite work out as planned.

They’re making mistakes but have enough self awareness and nous not to make messily huge, world-bestriding ones; Devi, on the other hand?

Well, dear, sweet recklessly, led by her heart Devi keeps making misjudgement and mistake after misjudgement and mistake and while she learns her fair share of lessons, thanks in part to the weary counsel of her therapist Dr Jamie Ryan (Niecy Nash) who knows Devi means well but is often a victim of her own ill-thought-out impulses, she’s not exactly a star pupil in the school of life.

But then, really, who of us are?

Who hasn’t looked back on their life in some shape or form and regretted a host of ill-judged moves and wished they’d had the wisdom of older age when they were younger in the hope they might have done better at navigating the many painful, cringeworthy and sometimes amusing pitfalls of growing up?

There’s a fair chance Devi would be among that number but for now she’s two-timing hunky swimming star Paxton Hall-Yoshida (Darren Barnet) and former frenemy and cute rich kid nerd Ben (Jared Lewison), trying to be good friends with new fellow Indian student Aneesa (Megan Suri) and working out how to handle the fact that her mum night actually be dating someone.

(image courtesy IMP Awards (c) Netflix)

That’s a LOT but Devi in gloriously confident way thinks she has it all under control and much of the fun of the show, and a good amount of its emotional resonance comes from the fact that Devi does in fact NOT have it all together.

In fact, she’s a long way from having her ducks in a row, let alone in the same farmyard and much of Never Have I Ever‘s considerable charm comes from the fact that Devi is so damn relatable and normal.

Heightened for comic effect sure, but overall, she is very much a grounded, caring, well-intentioned kid who gets a lot wrong, falls into a pit of despair or panic depending on the situation, but somehow largely comes out the other wise, bruised but intact, loved despite short-term schisms and temporary relational animosity, and willing to have a go at life all over again.

Her bravura approach to life is both her Achilles heel but also a source of much her charm; and as Dr Ryan observes at one point, the fact that she feels deeply might cause her some issues right now but will ultimately mean she lives a long and wonderful, emotionally rich life.

It’s the getting to that golden promised land of adulthood that fuels Never Have I Ever, and imbues it with a lovely, very funny and at times profoundly moving air that draws you in so completely to Devi’ flawed but promising world that leaving it always feels like wrench.

She is delightful company, snug in the bosom of a family that includes her cousin Kamala (Richa Moorjani) who’s having some major #MeToo and romance issues of her own, and her non-nonsense lovingly strict grandmother Nirmala (Ranjita Chakravarty), and ready to suck the marrow from life with all the enthusiasm she can muster.

Where Never Have I Ever succeeds brilliantly in season 2, is in its focus on the fallibility of the human condition but how we can live and learn from our mistakes although not in a linear fashion because who really ever does that, and in giving us an adorably broken protagonist who is immensely likeable and has all the promise in the world of putting all her misused pieces together sooner rather than later and doing something amazing with her nascent life.

Until then, well it’s one step forward and a cratering, eventually corrected but not perfectly fall into the chasm backwards and frankly if you love this show, you wouldn’t have it any other way.

Never Have I Ever has been renewed for a third season with a likely release of northern summer/autumn 2022.

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