(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)

The Series: Never Have I Ever

Where You Can Stream It: Netflix

The Pitch: Loosely inspired by creator Mindy Kaling‘s childhood growing up in a Massachusetts suburb, Never Have I Ever is a high school romantic-comedy that follows cocky 15-year-old Devi Vishwakumar (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) as she recovers from her father’s death and an unexplained bout of paralysis by chasing after the hottest boy at school.

Why It’s Essential Quarantine Viewing: A young woman shoves down her expanding feelings of grief by throwing herself into a series of bad life decisions that alienate the people around her, while navigating a fractured family dynamic. But enough about Fleabag. Yes, the comparisons between Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s raunchy, incisive Emmy-winning series and Mindy Kaling’s high school coming-of-age comedy may seem odd, but just like FleabagNever Have I Ever is an unexpectedly heart-wrenching delight. Kaling’s best TV series yet, Never Have I Ever is a disarmingly sincere exploration of grief and a snapshot of the immigrant experience nestled within a sweet, hysterical teen rom-com.

Six months after her father died from a heart attack during her school concert, 15-year-old Devi has refused to properly process her grief, instead deciding that the only way to better her life is to completely change her image as the nerdy girl at school and lose her virginity to the popular jock Paxton Hall-Yoshida (a very attractive, very obviously 20-something Darren Barnet). Her best friends Eleanor (Ramona Young) and Fabiola (Lee Rodriguez) enthusiastically support Devi’s resolve, but as they struggle with their own issues of parental abandonment and sexual identity, Devi’s actions start to form a rift between her and her friends. On top of it all is Devi’s ongoing feud with school rival Ben Gross (Jaren Lewison) and her fractious relationship with her frustrated mother (Poorna Jagannathan).

Kaling’s brand of comedy isn’t for everyone. She writes loud, obnoxious characters whose flaws are more noticeable than their strengths, and she’s got a gift for writing scenarios that give you enough second-hand embarrassment you’re liable to turn off the TV. But in the context of a high school rom-com, Kaling’s comedy is right at home. When Kaling’s main characters (often some version of herself) make impulsive, stupid decisions, it makes so much sense when it’s a teen girl making those decisions. And as played by radiant newcomer Ramakrishnan (and narrated by tennis legend John McEnroe), it’s so much more charming.

Kaling is also a gushing romantic at heart, and Never Have I Ever has an abundance of that. The clichés that Kaling loves and the tropes that she plays with aren’t groundbreaking by any means — the enemies-to-lovers trope is one she’s used at least twice before — but Kaling has a way with writing romance that makes you aware of how cheesy it all is, while falling right into its trap. Plus it helps that Lewison, who plays the aforementioned rival-to-romantic prospect, is so good at giving that pining look that is at the core of every good romance.

The humor is bright and offbeat, despite the show’s sad premise, but Kaling knows when to flip the switch and deliver sincere, heartbreaking family drama. The show’s sensitive exploration to grief, as well as its honest depiction of the immigrant experience, makes Never Have I Ever a refreshingly nuanced take on the coming-of-age comedy.

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