Netflix’s original TV series “Never Have I Ever” has gone to new depths for its characters in season 3, including headstrong main character Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) and her mother Nalini (Poorna Jagannathan).
My daughter and I just spent 28 minutes watching the impossibly geek-chic cast deliver one-liners with the pace of “Gilmore Girls” (if they were more diverse) and decked out in decidedly 21st century outfits. But there’s far more depth to it than fashion and snappy dialogue. And this dip into deeper waters isn’t even just about the main character. That definitely surprised me, but here’s what shocked me: it surprised my 13 year old too.
“See?” Phoebe, my daughter, says to me on the sofa without looking away from the screen. “Her mom really does have feelings. She just processes them in a different way.” Thank you, Netflix.
Moms handle it all. And we do it with an audience because our kids are looking.
The series is about Devi, who has the anger issues of a certain green superhero, but somehow pulls it off with the charisma of Bridget Jones (if she were a 15-year-old first generation Indian girl taking all the AP classes Sherman Oaks High has to offer). It’s an instantly likable coming-of-age series created by Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher, in its third season with a fourth and final season already shot. (Seriously, “Never Have I Ever” scores an astounding 94% on Rotten Tomatoes’s “average tomatometer” and clocks in at 88% for the “average audience score.”) The story is loosely based on Kaling’s real high school experiences as a daughter of Indian immigrants (Kaling also lost her mom at age 12). It’s a coming -of-age story with a layer of grief.
And maybe that’s what makes the mother-daughter relationship the most fascinating part of the show. The series is “a love story between the mother and daughter,” Poorna Jagannathan recently explained to Vanity Fair. The actress only took the role only after having a candid talk with Kaling because she didn’t want to be reduced to a one-dimensional “Disney Mom.” There’s too much to talk about, she says. As a mother, and as a woman.
“I think, as a society, we are actually being dealt a lot. A few weeks ago, it was really brutal,” she says. “There was one event in the world happening after the other. There just seemed like no break. And so, you just learn not to grieve for anything because you don't have the heart or the space or the capacity. The grieving process suddenly feels so big, and your vessel seems so small. And so I think this show helps people with that—it just helps people release some of the grief that they're carrying.”
Right now life feels so loaded. The moms I know are just playing whack-a-mole all day long, managing everything from buying our kids new soccer cleats and undies in all the right sizes and styles, putting kid-friendly but still nourishing food on the table, reading the endless stream of emails from school to digesting devastating news about climate change and mass shootings.
Moms handle it all. And we do it with an audience because our kids are looking. They’re learning how to be grownups by watching the way we do it. Now to be honest, my life is a pretty constant flux between demonstrating how to handle life’s challenges with grace, and you know, curling up with a bowl of ice cream to re-watch “The Office”instead of working. It’s a lot.
And we all handle it differently. “I guess I see how (my sister) comes at things totally differently than I do,” Phoebe said when I asked what the show brought up for her. She’s a first-born kid and a lot like the no-nonsense mom in the show, while her younger sister has the same intensity of Devi. When you’re a firecracker, it’s easy to mistake other people’s seemingly cool exterior for not caring as much as you do. One of life’s biggest lessons is that everyone has feelings—no matter how they show up. And individuals need space to deal with our pain in a way that actually helps us.
“Never Have I Ever” gave me a chance to talk to my daughter about processing emotions, which is something that I never, ever, even considered doing with my own mom. Our house was a wild ride when I was Devi’s age. My mom had recently divorced my dad after trying to convince him (and the police department) that violence wasn’t a good fit for our family, then immediately remarried. My prefrontal cortex was too busy developing to tell me that even though my mom seemed cool on the outside, she still had her own grief to deal with on the inside. Plus, outward shows of emotion weren’t in then. Keeping your cool was prized above all. No matter what.
That’s another thing I’m grateful to the 2020s for: normalizing anger. And I’m not the only one.
“I mean, what is there not to be angry about? I'm dead serious. I walk around rageful all the time,” Jagannathan goes on to the magazine. “To see a character express it is so fulfilling to all of us, in all our different stages of life. As an adult woman, I feel it, I just don't express it."
"There's a goddess in India called Kali. She's the goddess of destruction. She walks around with a severed head in each hand. It's such a shame that we've lost that, and I do know that when each of us taps into that, it's such a force for change for all of us. And it is absolutely exhilarating to see it portrayed through someone like Maitreyi.”
Moms have always had feelings. But suddenly, finally, maybe, we’re allowed to show them. It’s not always pretty, and almost never perfect, and that’s because most of us didn’t grow up thinking this was a thing. But it is.
In 2022, we’re learning about processing pain as we go. Building the plane while we fly it. As we feel around in the dark, we’re picking up enough tips, tricks and hacks to eventually cobble together a strategy. How to Deal With Your Feelings 101. Except it’s a DIY course, so be patient with us. Everyone needs to learn how to deal at their own pace, in ways that make sense to them–even moms. Yesterday I saw a meme that said “When you’re a kid you don’t realize you’re also watching your parents grow up.” Never have I ever felt so understood.
From what to watch to what to read, check out more entertainment ideas from Motherly here.