“Never Have I Ever” Seen Such Refreshing Diversity That Doesn’t Boast its Refreshing Diversity
The Trope of the Coming of Age Narrative
The first time I watched the trailer for “Never Have I Ever” on Netflix I was over- and underwhelmed at the same time. On the surface, it looked like any other basic coming-of-age drama series, and the formula was all too familiar—a quirky, unpopular main female character with a crush on a hot, older popular guy, a rocky relationship with her mother, and two equally quirky and unpopular best friends. (The main character in these shows almost always has exactly two friends. No more, no less.)
Cheesy and uninteresting as it seemed, I knew I would watch it anyway. I live for coming-of-age dramas. You could call them a guilty pleasure, but really the only guilt involved is the idea that I should feel any type of guilt in the first place, as if they hold no value. But I watched the entire series in less than 24 hours, and the experience was anything but cheesy and uninteresting.
Diversity & the “Other”
Netflix is trying its hardest to serve diversity—in terms of race, class, sexual orientation, etc.—in its original series and films and I’m here for it. “Never Have I Ever” centers on a girl named Devi, a California teenager whose parents emigrated from India, making her a first-generation Indian-American. Most—if not all—of the show’s other central characters are or appear to be people of color with diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds—Devi’s two best friends (one of whom struggles with her sexual orientation); her academic “rival,” Ben; her crush, Paxton; and even Paxton’s best friend.
I love to see representation for minority groups who aren’t represented otherwise. But most of the time it’s done in a way that turns the minority into an “other” and they are portrayed as an outsider, someone that clearly doesn’t fit into the space dominated by the—usually straight, white, cisgender, etc.—majority. These characters are interesting or special because of their “otherness.” They are recognized and praised for their difference.
I’m not against representation; it’s never really a bad thing, but sometimes we fail to look deeper into why it’s happening or what kind of message it’s sending. For one thing, the word “diversity” itself always refers to anyone or anything other the straight, white, cisgender, etc. majority. (I even used the phrase “other than” just now.) Including diversity just for the sake of diversity only creates more difference by drawing attention to it and the “otherness.”
But “Never Have I Ever” Does It a Little Differently
But unlike other movies or shows with diverse casts, this show is not necessarily about its diversity. Instead of a coming-of-age story of an Indian-American girl, “Never Have I Ever” is a coming-of-age story about a girl who just happens to be Indian-American. That’s what makes it refreshing. It’s not the fact that it features an Indian-American teenager, but the fact that she’s also just a teenager with a specific background.
It was definitely an intentional effort to promote inclusion and representation, but it does so in a way that doesn’t jump up and boast about it. The show doesn’t feel diverse because it’s trying to be diverse; it feels that way because that’s just the way the world is.
Have you seen "Never Have I Ever?" What shows have you been binge-watching lately? Comment below!