‘Never Have I Ever’ shines a light on a grief that needs to be seen

For its unflinching depiction of grief, 'Never Have I Ever' deserves the highest of praise.

When news broke that Mindy Kaling was gifting the world with a new Netflix comedy, I instantly expected great things. Not to put any pressure on you, Mindy, who is most definitely reading this, but Kelly Kapoor is one of the most underrated television characters of the 21st century. A comedy from the mind who brought us such an unforgettable character had all the ingredients of content I would love.

So, yeah. I had high hopes for Never Have I Ever. I expected a few laughs. I was pretty sure I would end up bingeing the whole season in one sugar-fuelled, square-eyed session. 

What I didn’t expect was to see something so real depicted so authentically, a state of being that is too often overlooked for its inability to be described, a reality that all of us will face and one that is largely missing from the young adult diaspora, portrayed with the kind of accuracy that makes you feel seen. I’m talking, of course, about grief.

Never Have I Ever is a story that addresses varying themes, issues and tropes as told through a fresh comedic lens. It follows the life of Devi Vishwakumar, a high schooler with her mind set on finding a boyfriend — any boyfriend — perfectly portrayed by newcomer Maitreyi Ramakrishnan. There’s a love triangle (or at least, the beginnings of one), friendship troubles, a struggle against cultural identity, family squabbles, and an ever-present strive for perfection that sees a whole episode dedicated to a worthy antagonist with his own concerns, Ben Gross (Jaren Lewison). Oh, and it’s narrated by tennis legend John McEnroe. As far as teen comedies go, you couldn’t ask for much more.

But Never Have I Ever goes the extra mile to bring grief and mourning into a spotlight society often shies away from. The loss of a loved one isn’t easy to talk about. It’s even harder to explain how it feels to someone who is as yet unaware of the intricacies and overwhelming pain that is grief. Devi finds herself facing this lifelong predicament sooner than anyone should have to when her father, Mohan (Sendhil Ramamurthy), passes away. This is devastating enough, but becomes even more distressing when the circumstances of Mohan’s untimely death are revealed through flashbacks and we begin to understand the trauma Devi has experienced.

For some who watch Never Have I Ever, the fresh take on Devi’s hilariously cringeworthy high school experience will be the hero of the show — and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a familiar coming-of-age story told in a new way with the exact right balance of laughter and authenticity. It’s a series that’s easy to love. 

Which is kind of the point. On the surface, we know Devi is grieving. We know she’s seeing a therapist, that she’s placing greater importance on absolutely anything that doesn’t involve acknowledging her feelings, that the loss of her father hit her so hard that she lost the ability to walk for three months. But for the most part, she doesn’t talk about it. 

Instead, we see her in the midst of a panic attack and hurrying to find a welcome distraction in Paxton Hall-Yoshida (Darren Barnet). We see her arriving home late and screaming when she thinks she sees her late Dad searching the refrigerator — and not telling anyone about it. We see Devi experience the roller coaster of grief, yet we barely hear her acknowledge it. 

It’s one of the most accurate depictions of how it feels to grieve at a young age I’ve seen.

For every child, teenager or young adult who has lost a parent, Never Have I Ever is the mirror of themselves they need to see. Nobody experiences grief the same way, but seeing the reality of its hold on a person expressed so openly on screen is enormously important. Too often is grief an unspoken thing, as we see in Devi’s case. Perhaps she can’t talk about — maybe she won’t — but I can’t help but think that if she’d watched her pain explored in the comedy program everyone is talking about, she would at least feel seen. 

Yes, Never Have I Ever is hilarious. It’s fresh and exciting, and so important for a multitude of reasons. But for its unflinching depiction of a grief so raw and all-encompassing, it deserves the highest of praise.

Grief may be unspoken, but it is not unseen. Hopefully Devi’s story will show others feeling the same way that pain is not designed to suffer alone. Whether it’s a journal or a friend, a therapist or a family member, let those emotions out. 

You might be surprised by just how many people are willing to listen. 

Image via Lara Solanki/Netflix.

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