“What if nobody ever loves me because I’m always too much?” Devi asks her mother in the penultimate episode of Never Have I Ever’s third season. Those who have watched seasons 1 and 2 will know just how much Devi can be, and the self-awareness the protagonist presents is what makes her far more likeable this season. The critically acclaimed series follows Indian-American Tamil teenager, Devi Vishwakumar, as she navigates healing from the sudden death of her father in the complicated milieu of high school drama.
This time around, the series’ flaws are perhaps more plain to see. Moving away from the novelty of its innovative representation, the hurried plot development feels less forgivable and is harder to connect with. The series has had such a great reception that it was simultaneously renewed for a third and fourth (final) season. With a fourth run secured, it’s hard to understand just why the pace feels so rushed in season 3’s early episodes.
The show does far too much, feels too much, and is initially difficult to connect with. Some of it works; the introduction to Nirdesh (Anirudh Pisharody), Des for short, who is not nearly as nerdy as Devi fears him to be, is a welcome addition to the stereotype-subversive roster of characters. Some of it doesn’t; despite likeable performances from Ramona Young and Benjamin Norris, the story between Eleanor and Trent is rushed, and feels like a waste of incredible slow-burn potential.
If you manage to push through the disjointed plot and grating tonal inconsistencies, the season redeems itself, with a show that’s genuinely funny, genuinely heart-warming, and just feels wholly genuine. The sixth episode is a turning point, with the focus briefly shifting to Devi’s ‘frenemy’ Ben (Jaren Lewison). Be it because of the slower pace, the higher emotional stakes, or the return of Andy Samberg’s narration, this episode is a much easier watch and sets the standard for the rest of the season. Like its earlier seasons, the show’s strength comes through in later episodes, once we pass the frivolous romances and awkward subplots, and dive deeper into Devi’s growth and grief.
The most successful aspects of the season are the gradual storylines. The relationship between Devi’s cousin Kamala (Richa Moorjani), and Devi’s teacher Manish (Utkarsh Ambudkar) develops at a much slower pace than the teenage romances and, paired with their genuine chemistry, warrants much more emotional investment. Equally, the evolving friendship between Fabiola (Lee Rodriguez) and Aneesa (Megan Suri) accurately illustrates fluid Gen Z confines. Many of the characters, particularly our favourite love triangle trio Devi, Ben and Paxton, have profound individual journeys of personal growth this season. This is the season Paxton (Darren Barnet) becomes much more than a pretty face, and Ben becomes more than his academic achievements. Most importantly, it’s when Devi begins to heal and become more than the impulsive grieving girl. In true teen drama style, the show’s fundamental cornerstones are friendship and finding oneself, and the series tackles these with charm.
What secures the third season as a solid contribution to the ever-growing Mindy Kaling Cinematic Universe, is the relationship between mother and daughter. Nalini and Devi’s relationship is powerful this season, with the duo’s scenes being the most emotionally evocative by far. Maitreyi Ramakrishnan continues to sparkle, with stellar supporting performances from the rest of the cast. She brings an emotional maturity and progression to Devi without compromising on the craziness we have come to love her for. She’s a better friend, a better daughter and owns up to her mistakes with much less resistance. She’s still a solid source of second-hand embarrassment and makes extremely questionable choices, however. Poorna Jagannathan is phenomenally convincing as a Tamil mother: she’s terrifying and can be overbearing but fiercely protective, loving and resilient. As she hugs her daughter and affectionately calls her “kanna”, I’m as comforted as Devi is.
As a Tamil girl, I cannot write this review without acknowledging just how good the representation in Never Have I Ever is. From storing bindis, or pottus, on her mirror, to not knowing what Navaratri actually is, to struggling with immense shame around sex, Devi is the epitome of a second-generation South Asian young woman. There’s also an incredible scene in the latter half of the season that touches on the plight of immigrant parents. As an advocate of representation, I’m torn between wanting the series to explore themes of South Asian identity in a much deeper sense, and wanting Devi to remain a universally relatable character who is a normal teenager before she is anything else. Devi is unapologetically herself, is a nuanced individual above all, and is the representation we have always wanted, but it’s hard not to feel like further exploration into this world could push the presently enjoyable and endearing show into greatness.
Every brown girl, nay, every girl has dealt with the fear of not wanting to be too much. Devi is emotional and messy, and it’s what makes her so relatable to younger audiences. Just like its protagonist, the third season of Never Have I Ever can be too much, some moments are too cringey to watch, and there are arguably too many pop culture references. But equally, just like Devi, it’s endearing in its messiness, it’s human in its absurdity, it’s nuanced in its humour and it’s ultimately, entirely worthy of love.