The article below contains spoilers for "Never Have I Ever" season two. You’ve been warned!
All Desi American girls know the feeling: a friend, cousin or sibling that’s just a little too perfect. They’re smarter, prettier, speak their mother tongue perfectly and are just effortlessly cool. Everyone seems to like them more, maybe even your friends and parents. The comparisons are constant; they’re the person you love to hate.
Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, 19, star of Mindy Kaling’s Netflix show “Never Have I Ever,” is intimately familiar with this situation, and now she gets to portray it on screen. In season two of the show, which hits Netflix on Thursday, main character Devi faces a whole new set of issues — including, yes, a new, cooler Indian girl joining her class.
“It sucks,” Ramakrishnan told NBC Asian America. “It’s so unfortunate because you’re like, ‘Hey, why can’t you just be friends?’ You want to be like, ‘Devi, please just go be friends. You’re just jealous.’”
"Never Have I Ever" follows Devi Vishwakumar, a 15-year-old Indian American high school student whose father died of a heart attack at the beginning of last season. Season one Devi has one goal: to lose her virginity to the school hottie and rocket her group of outcast friends to popularity. But her quest goes awry in a tangle of lies and anger issues and a turbulent relationship with her friends and mother. The season ends with Devi finally putting her feud with her mom behind her and confused about her feelings for two different boys.
Season two picks up exactly where it left off, with Devi’s confusion, anger and lying coming back to bite her. But a central focus for this season is Devi’s deepening relationships with the Desi women in her life — old and new. Touching moments of bonding with her mom (Poorna Jagannathan) and cousin Kamala (Richa Moorjani) and a new relationship with her grandmother visiting from India shape Devi’s character arc in season two and Ramakrishnan’s life outside the show, as well. She reflected on the role relationships with brown women play in her life.
“I wouldn’t be who I am without those,” she said.
One of the main storylines centers around the character Aneesa (Megan Suri), a transfer student who enrolls at Sherman Oaks High School and is referred to as “Devi 2.0” by the white students. The athletic, stylish and effortless Aneesa immediately draws attention and affection from all of Devi’s classmates, favorite teachers and family members, and Ramakrishnan said Devi is understandably jealous.
"You understand where Devi's coming from," she said. "She's trying to make her mark. She's got her own baggage; she's got s--- that she's dealing with."
Over the course of the season, Devi’s relationship with Aneesa goes from threat to frenemy to friend. As she gets to know her, it becomes harder to hate her. But after she suspects Aneesa is hooking up with her ex-boyfriend Ben (Jaren Lewison), Devi spreads a rumor that she has an eating disorder, which pushes them apart.
Eventually, the two end up sharing a friendship unique to any of her others. Ramakrishnan said the show’s narrator, John McEnroe, described it perfectly in his voiceover.
“For once, Devi had a friend that understood her in ways her other friends didn’t,” Ramakrishnan said. “No shade to Eleanor [Ramona Young] and Fabiola [Lee Rodriguez], but Aneesa understood those small things like comparisons between cousins or the random judgement of wearing baggy clothes.”
When the two finally put their differences aside, Aneesa relents that she experiences those things too, and it’s not all in Devi’s head. Ramakrishnan said those relationships between brown girls are so meaningful and important, emphasizing the role they play in her own life.
“Having someone who really gets that identity and all those little isms, it’s really nice and really fulfilling,” she said. “Hopefully it’ll make Devi grow and realize like, ‘OK, cool, I can talk about these things, about what bothers me in the culture, what I like about the culture, and just have those deep conversations that I’m very happy to have with my friends.’”
On top of developments in Devi’s relationships with both Ben and Paxton (Darren Barnet), which started in season one, the new season also introduces a love interest for Devi’s mom, a fellow dermatologist and single father played by Common. Kamala — who is another perfect, feminine Indian woman whom Devi feels she can never live up to — also finds empowerment in standing up to her misogynistic co-worker who refuses to give her credit for her work.
Paxton also gets an episode explaining his backstory, his journey with his education and his struggle to be seen as more than just an attractive jock, guest narrated by model Gigi Hadid.
“Believe it or not, I relate to this kid,” Hadid says in her voiceover. “We’re both constantly underestimated because people only see us as sex symbols.”
Ramakrishnan doesn’t know what’s next for Devi or any of the show’s characters, but she said she thinks the deep relationships and maturity developed between the Desi women in this season are essential to Devi's evolution as she navigates adolescence.
“She’s just trying to find her own self,” she said.