“Never Have I Ever,” the coming-of-age comedy co-created by Mindy Kaling, is a treat. New to Netflix, it’s a breezy 10-episode story about a 15-year-old Indian-American girl named Devi and her Southern California high school friends, all during the year after her father dies.
It’s built on mostly familiar high school doings, with romantic twists and BFFs and a crush on a hot jock — but it’s filtered through the specific lives of an Indian-American family in the aftermath of a tragedy. While Devi lusts after Paxton Hall-Yoshida, competes scholastically with Ben Gross, and argues with her two best girlfriends, her mother is busy arranging a traditional Indian marriage between her aunt and a complete stranger. The cultural contrasts are fascinating and, at times, funny.
The show is also smartly written, so that the season builds to a climax that is organic and, I found, moving. One scene in the last episode had me sniffling in a fully earned cathartic moment, about delayed grief and the meaning of family. And oddly, the show’s voiceover narration is by explosive tennis player John McEnroe (as well as by a special guest star I won’t spoil here, in one episode) — which doesn’t make sense at all until it totally does.
The cast, though, is what elevates “Never Have I Ever” to the level of other recent and extraordinary teen series such as Netflix’s “Sex Education” and Hulu’s “PEN15.” Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, who plays Devi, is an amazing find by Kaling, who held an open casting call and reportedly received some 15,000 submissions. Ramakrishnan makes Devi’s every line, every reaction shot, every eye-roll sing. She’s naturally wry, and outspoken, and self-aware as a girl who’s on the verge of high school coolness. As a newcomer, her work has the kind of freshness that can sometimes get lost in young actors who’ve been on TV a lot. The rest of the cast is aces, too, not least of all the wonderful Poorna Jagannathan (from “The Night Of” and “Defending Jacob”) as Devi’s intense mother and Niecy Nash as her wise therapist.
“Never Have I Ever” has not been renewed for a second season, but I’d be shocked if Netflix doesn’t announce one soon. Shocked and saddened. The first season did what some of the best shows do: It left me wanting more.
Matthew Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.