Never Have I Ever, Season Four Review | A Winning Send-off

by Andrew Parker

For its fourth and final season, the groundbreaking teen comedy Never Have I Ever goes out on a high note. Balancing cultural diversity, razor sharp and realistic observational humour, and well implemented bouts of bittersweet reflection, Never Have I Ever has emerged over time as one of the strongest series of the modern era, and one that thankfully knows precisely the right moment to put in a pin in the storyline of likably flawed teenager Devi Vishwakumar, her family, and friends.

Picking up immediately with the awkward aftermath of her hook-up with fellow nerd and periphery love interest Ben Gross (Jaren Lewison), Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) stumbles through the pitfalls of her senior year of high school. All but assured that her life will exponentially improve once she has left the confines of Sherman Oaks High School, Devi becomes singularly obsessed with getting into Princeton via early admission. The pressures of trying to get into a ivy league school are compounded by the everyday pitfalls of being a horny, dorky, emotional teenager. She breaks away from Ben, and almost immediately runs afoul of his new girlfriend, Margot (Victoria Moroles). Devi has seemingly lost interest in longtime crush and ex-boyfriend Paxton Hall-Yoshida (Darren Barnet) – who’s off struggling with his own inadequacies at college – but in his place is a hot new bad-boy burnout (Michael Cimino) that could spell bad news.

Never Have I Ever, created by Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher, has always been elevated on the strengths of its expertly woven interpersonal relationships, be they romantic, familial, or friendly. The will-they-or-won’t-they chemistry that Devi has with both Ben and Paxton is understandably rocky and reasoned. Devi’s equally fraught relationship to her stern, loving, widower mother (Poorna Jagannathan) and stuck-in-a-rut older sister (Richa Moorjani) is an easily relatable dynamic, even outside of the specificity of the family’s richly detailed cultural background. Some of the series best moments come from simply watching Devi goofing around, fretting, worrying, and arguing with her best friends, Eleanor (Ramona Young) and Fabiola (Lee Rodriguez). Even Devi’s relationship to her exceptionally patient therapist (Niecy Nash-Betts) has been a highlight of the series. Never Have I Ever might thrive on an unparalleled mastery of screwball comedy techniques, but the real power lies in its understated ability to make its characters and the viewer feel seen and understood, no matter which personality is in control of the storyline at any given moment.

Devi’s narrative arc has been a fascinating one to watch unfold because Kaling and Fisher’s vision for the character is purposefully messy and without compromise. Although Devi is a charming, funny person with a good head on her shoulders, she’s also complex like many teenagers. She gets into trouble. She sometimes lies to her best friends to save face, with horrible consequences. She doesn’t want to let her family down, but she also wants to carve her own path. Her ambition sometimes outstrips her drive. She’s not above acting petty or vengeful, but only learns her lesson when those same tactics – or even worse, the truth – is used against her. She’s cocky and self-deprecating in equal measure. She’s an overachiever and a hothead, which is still wonderfully exemplified through the running commentary within the character’s head delivered via tennis pro John McEnroe. Devi develops deep personal attachments and puts a lot of stock into them, despite a keen understanding that a lot of these high school relationships and dramas are fleeting. She hangs on tightly, and often doesn’t let go until forced. She’s on top of the world one moment, and wallowing in the lowest of lows the next. A lot of her victories are pyrrhic, and her defeats are things to learn from. She sometimes realizes too late that she’s not the only one with problems, and often falls into the trap of thinking that the successes of others somehow reflects poorly on herself.

Never Have I Ever has always had a rock solid anchor in Ramakrishnan, who effortlessly transitions between Devi’s sometimes instantaneous mood swings and shifting beliefs with exceptional timing and wonderful instincts. Whether Devi has to be funny or serious, Ramakrishnan approaches the character from a grounded, nuanced perspective. It’s a performance that deserves far more attention than it has gotten, probably because it’s the centrepiece of a show that many think is aimed squarely at teenagers, when in actuality, Never Have I Ever has a keener understanding of human nature than most mainstream hour long dramas, and it takes a talent as strong as Ramakrishnan to constantly steer the ship. 

Devi is a character that will be missed greatly, but Young and Rodriguez’s wonderfully drawn and performed BFFs have slowly and unassumingly become major standouts across the course of Never Have I Ever (as has Fab’s robot friend Gears Brosnan, who gets a wonderful send-off here with the rest of them). Barnet and Gross have always pulled their weight as the annoying, aggrandizing, but secretly sweet rich kid and the soft-hearted hottie jock, respectively. Not everything in this final season of Never Have I Ever is perfect, with a subplot involving grandmother Nirmala (Ranjita Chakravarty) falling in love with a potentially sketchy white guy (Jeff Garlin) and everything involving Cimino’s aloof bad-boy taking up a lot of running time and falling largely flat. But the series still maintains the winning dynamic where it counts the most among the character that have been around since the start of the show.

Despite the occasional and slight misstep along the way, Never Have I Ever remains bold and relatable in equal measure, never talking down to the intelligence of any audience member regardless of age of cultural background. It has a winning sitcom formula, but marries that with a keen mastery of character and performance, making the familiar seem extraordinary. Many decent teen series and films have come across various streaming services over the years, but Never Have I Ever set the template that should be followed for decades to come.

The final season of Never Have I Ever premieres on Netflix starting Thursday, June 8, 2023.

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