'Never Have I Ever' Season 3: What it gets right — and wrong — about representation

·8 min read

The much-anticipated third installment of Netflix’s “Never Have I Ever,” a coming-of-age story about an Indian American girl living in Sherman Oaks, California, releases on Aug. 12. And I’m here to confirm that it’s something that fans can look forward to seeing.

Season 3 has it all: breakups, hookups, struggles with overprotective parents, reconciliations with overprotective parents, personal grief and exaggerated teen drama. It's all underscored, of course, by executive producer Mindy Kaling’s signature brand of cringe humor.

This season also appears to address some fans’ criticisms of previous seasons while still fumbling with some stereotypes.

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Devi and Paxton are finally together in ‘Never Have I Ever’

In Episode 1, we pick up after overachieving student Devi Vishwakumar (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) and reformed jock Paxton Hall-Yoshida (Darren Barnet) became official during the winter dance at the end of Season 2.

Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) (left) and Paxton (Darren Barnet) in Season 3, Episode 1, of "Never Have I Ever."
Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) (left) and Paxton (Darren Barnet) in Season 3, Episode 1, of "Never Have I Ever."

Dating the most popular guy in school — a relationship hard-launch that involves just as much slow-motion handholding in the hallway as you’d hope from a high school dramedy — has Devi “feeling truly confident” for the first time.

Another first: Devi and her best friends Fabiola (Lee Rodriguez) and Eleanor (Ramona Young), as well as Season 2 addition Aneesa (Megan Suri) are all in relationships. Shockingly, having a boyfriend or girlfriend doesn’t solve all of their problems.

A boyfriend who, by the way, must be kept secret from Devi’s mom, Nalini (Poorna Jagannathan), who doesn’t allow her to date. And though Ramakrishnan and Barnet’s chemistry isn’t entirely believable, it perhaps serves to emphasize Devi’s self-consciousness and insecurities about their relationship that disrupts the social hierarchy.

This is where Ramakrishnan excels portraying a high school student for whom the world is constantly ending. It’s a no-brainer that Kaling picked her out from an open casting call that involved 15,000 potential Devis.

As Devi’s academic rival and former love interest Ben (Jaren Lewison) says, “You know how Devi is. Her problems just sort of suck everybody in.”

Eleanor Wong (Ramona Young) (left), Fabiola (Lee Rodriguez), Aneesa (Megan Suri) and Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) in Season 3, Episode 7, of "Never Have I Ever."
Eleanor Wong (Ramona Young) (left), Fabiola (Lee Rodriguez), Aneesa (Megan Suri) and Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) in Season 3, Episode 7, of "Never Have I Ever."

Season 3 continues to flesh out everyone’s character arc and shows nuanced storytelling about the multigenerational Vishwakumar household; though “Never Have I Ever” is focused on Devi finding herself after her dad unexpectedly died (a plot point about grief that does end up being explored this season), it’s delightful to get the occasional reprieve from teenage drama.

This season, viewers get to see Devi's mom finally make a friend, her cousin Kamala (Richa Moorjani) pave her own path and her grandmother Nirmala (Ranjita Chakravarty) navigate the drama of her own social circles. The adult figures are just as flawed as the messy teenagers, by the way, but they usually cover it up better.

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'Never Have I Ever' represents a variety of Asian Americans

A slew of essays praising Devi, in her unabashed sexuality and uncontrolled teenage emotions, for being a refreshing example of South Asian representation have been published since Season 1 premiered in 2020. In Season 3, “Never Have I Ever” continues to showcase three-dimensional Asian American characters who are lovable because of their faults.

The diversity of Asian Americans on the show includes Devi, a straight-A nerd who is often impulsive and constantly disobeys her mother; Eleanor, who brings her theatrics to both the drama club and her personal life; and Paxton, the popular kid who struggles with academics.

Nalini (Poorna Jagannathan) and Kamala (Richa Moorjani) in Season 3, Episode 5, of "Never Have I Ever."
Nalini (Poorna Jagannathan) and Kamala (Richa Moorjani) in Season 3, Episode 5, of "Never Have I Ever."

And there's Aneesa, a jock who's not too concerned with college admissions, and Manish (Utkarsh Ambudkar), who didn’t grow up celebrating Indian or Hindu holidays and isn’t ashamed of being a public-school English teacher.

Now that’s a diversity of Asian American people that I haven’t seen in most American media — and I can’t get enough of it.

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Why 'Never Have I Ever' is essential

Do the writers and creators capture every single Asian American and LGBTQ+ experience on "Never Have I Ever?" No, though it’s certainly something to strive for.

But they do deserve credit for creating a variety of characters while circumventing some stereotypes (though still falling into some damaging tropes — more on that later).

As Ramakrishnan wrote in an April 28, 2020, tweet, “There are still many stories waiting to be told. This is one of many steps forward in a much longer race.”

"Never Have I Ever" star Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, left, and co-creator Mindy Kaling pose for a portrait in New York.
"Never Have I Ever" star Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, left, and co-creator Mindy Kaling pose for a portrait in New York.

According to a Nielsen report published in May 2022, Asian American Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander representation increased from 3.5% in 2020 to 4.6% in 2021 among top the top scripted 1,500 broadcast, cable and streaming shows. But, as the report notes, “The stories that are told and the roles played by Asians are also critical to shaping people’s perceptions about the Asian American community.”

These numbers are below their share of the U.S. population, and East Asians are the highest represented group: "South and Southeast Asian on-screen representation is far below their representation in the population," reads Nielsen's 2021 Being Seen on Screen: The Importance of Quantity and Quality Representation on TV report.

(Coincidentally, it praises “Never Have I Ever” for “(demonstrating) expanded themes that are attractive and relatable to all audiences.”)

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Ramona Young, who is Chinese American and plays Eleanor, told The Arizona Republic in an Aug. 8 interview that "there's definitely a lot of feedback on representation" from viewers.

"I've been getting a lot of comments on social media, like, 'Hey, I look just like you on screen,'" she said. "And that's always super moving for me to hear because I know when I was growing up, it was hard for me to think of people that were my doppelgangers (on screen)."

Lee Rodriguez, who plays Fabiola, told The Republic that she receives messages from people who say her storyline as a young gay woman inspired them to come out. Rodriguez came out as "a proud queer (woman)" on Instagram several years ago.

"I think that's really cool," she said. "It's something on screen, like, inspiring your personal life. It goes to show that we're doing something right."

Fabiola (Lee Rodriguez) and Eleanor (Ramona Young) in Season 3, Episode 2, of "Never Have I Ever."
Fabiola (Lee Rodriguez) and Eleanor (Ramona Young) in Season 3, Episode 2, of "Never Have I Ever."

Fabiola's character shows that "there's no one way to be queer," Rodriguez said. "And I like how in Season 3 ... it's not really about her being conflicted with her identity anymore. It's more so (about) her relationships with other people."

Some viewers have criticized the show for some of its portrays, including some actors’ Tamil pronunciation, lack of acknowledgement of social caste and ableism surrounding Devi’s disability storyline in Season 1.

Though I acknowledge these faults, as someone who was once a 16-year-old Asian American girl growing up in the San Fernando Valley, I can confidently say that “Never Have I Ever” is a show I wish I had in high school.

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‘Never Have I Ever’ listened to some criticism in Season 3 — but not all

That isn’t to say that there aren’t things the show needs to work on.

Some fans have tried to hold “Never Have I Ever” accountable for perpetuating harmful stereotypes in previous seasons, and unfortunately one of them doesn’t seem to be addressed in Season 3.

The show doesn’t represent a broad range of body types, with the majority of characters thin and able-bodied. But the writers go a step further by continuing to make a punchline out of a character who has a larger body than his classmates.

Eric (Jack Seavor McDonald) in Season 3, Episode 1, of "Never Have I Ever."
Eric (Jack Seavor McDonald) in Season 3, Episode 1, of "Never Have I Ever."

In April 2020, a Twitter account called @fatphobiawatch pointed out some “fatphobic and completely unnecessary scenes” involving Eric Perkins (Jack Seavor McDonald).

In Season 3, Eric returns — this time as the school’s “Lady Whistleboy” who posts the latest gossip on social media in a nod to another Netflix hit show, “Bridgerton” — and is set up as the foil to Paxton, a former competitive swimmer with six-pack abs that get a decent amount of screen time.

Though Eric is a tertiary character, he deserves a more three-dimensional storyline. A fatal flaw? Perhaps not. But it’s certainly a comedic trope that you would hope to not see post-“Friends” era.

Meanwhile, another common criticism of both Kaling and the show about romantic Indian American male leads seems to be addressed in Season 3. To remain relatively spoiler-free, I’ll leave it at this: One episode is titled “… had an Indian boyfriend.”

Maitreyi Ramakrishnan as Devi and Darren Barnet as Paxton in Season 1 of "Never Have I Ever."
Maitreyi Ramakrishnan as Devi and Darren Barnet as Paxton in Season 1 of "Never Have I Ever."

How many seasons of ‘Never Have I Ever’ will there be?

The show received an early renewal on March 8, and Season 4 of “Never Have I Ever” — its final season — will premiere in 2023.

Though there’s a sense of finality in Episode 10 and satisfaction with how far these characters have come since Season 1, there’s much to be explored next season: Yes, more of Devi’s love life, but also what the gang gets up to in their senior year.

We’ll get to see what happens to the relationships that get off the ground in Season 3 (including one "will they or won't they" that you'll have to wait until the last minute of the season to see pan out), as well as the college application process that Devi and Ben have been preparing for their whole lives.

I, for one, am eager to see whether one character who's heading to Arizona gets a significant storyline in Season 4.

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When does Season 3 of ‘Never Have I Ever’ come out?

Season 3 premieres on Friday, Aug. 12, on Netflix.

Reach Entertainment Reporter KiMi Robinson at kimi.robinson@gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter @kimirobin and Instagram @ReporterKiMi.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: 'Never Have I Ever' Season 3 review: What fans can watch for