Arts and Entertainment

Never Have I Ever Been in a Love Square

“Never Have I Ever”’s highly anticipated third season is full of lighthearted banter and cute romantic moments sprinkled with genuine depictions of teenage struggles in all of its angsty glory.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

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By Afra Mahmud

In recent years, there’s been an explosion of new teen dramas, and Netflix’s “Never Have I Ever” stakes its place in the competitive genre, even as it approaches its third season.

“Never Have I Ever” follows Devi Vishwakumar (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan), an Indian-American high school student with a short fuse, who is struggling with the death of her father amidst blossoming feelings for her academic rival Ben Gross (Jared Lewison) and the most popular boy in school, Paxton Hall-Yoshida (Darren Barber). Season three picks up where the second season left off, with Devi entering a new relationship with Paxton.

Though much of the season matches the previous ones in terms of quality, there is a noticeable improvement in this season’s character development. This rings especially true for the show’s messy lead. Devi’s narcissism and inanity are toned down in favor of a more subdued disposition, and her signature conniving personality is taken down a few notches. While the previous seasons often found Devi in the awkward fallout from her convoluted schemes, this season, she finds healthier ways of coping with rejection and loss.

Paxton, the show’s resident pretty boy, also breaks out of his established stereotype, developing from a dim-witted womanizer into a mature, intelligent, college-bound adult who no longer worries about what others expect of him. Though originally hesitant to apply to college because of his perceived intellectual inadequacies, he realizes that his only true obstacle was his own insecure mindset. He also improves his behavior towards women, as one particularly memorable scene follows him while he apologizes to all of the girls he’s wronged. Similarly, Ben, the second contender in this seasons-old love triangle, grows from a college-obsessed workaholic to a relaxed and realistic high school student after winding up in the hospital due to his intense study regime. His character arc is especially well-executed and brings more complexity to his personality.

The relationships in this show add tremendously to its appeal. Most of the discourse surrounding the show has to do with the love triangle at its center. Though the last season ended with what seemed like a resolution, the conundrum is revived when Paxton breaks up with Devi because of her raging insecurities. The complications compound as the triangle evolves into a love square when Des (Anirudh Pisharody), the perfect blend of Paxton’s dreamy looks and Ben’s intense academic prowess, is introduced into the equation. The show juggles multiple love interests well, with each character retaining clearly different personalities and roles in their interactions with Devi. While Des teaches Devi how to be in a healthy relationship, Paxton helps her recover from her father’s death. Each person in this square also evolves outside of their relationships, creating multi-dimensional characters. As a result, there is no obvious answer to this love square, which is part of the show’s charm.

Though it is clear that romance is the main appeal of “Never Have I Ever,” comedy also contributes to its charisma. While the dialogue is cheesy at times, it’s also chock-full of witty one-liners and lighthearted banter. The writing accurately emulates teen humor, angst, and uncertainty in a way that isn’t over-sensationalized, as is the case with other teen dramas like “Euphoria.” Even the costume and production design balances trendiness with realism, fostering a relatability that could appeal to any young viewer.

“Never Have I Ever” also explores practical, relatable themes. Ben grapples with his need to be the best and Devi deals with grief and self-esteem issues following the death of her father. While the show doesn’t shy away from confronting serious issues, it also doesn’t sensationalize the teenage experience by romanticizing or misrepresenting its tribulations. Nudity, drugs, and alcohol are all prominent elements of popular teen dramas like “Euphoria.” While addiction and abuse are real problems that plague some teens, most high school students have more quotidian adversities of romance and self-worth, which deserve to be unpacked in an entertaining way just as graphic, flashy issues have.

Though the third season of “Never Have I Ever” fixes some of the problems present in previous seasons, there is also a slew of new issues. One big point of confusion this season is the timeline. The first three episodes follow Devi over a few weeks, while episode four jumps forward six months. The accelerated pacing continues throughout the season, which concludes at the end of the school year. Considering the drastically slower pacing of the show’s preceding seasons, the inconsistency is jarring and confusing.

The show also suffers in the plot department at certain points. After two seasons of build-up, Devi and Paxton anticlimactically break up after three episodes of being a couple, subsequently rebounding with new love interests one episode later. Just as Devi’s new relationship with Des develops into something more serious, they break up because of Des’s mother’s disapproval. Both relationships ended abruptly in an unsatisfying way that missed opportunities to develop their characters.

The acting also doesn’t do much to mitigate the show’s deficiencies. Though satisfactory during comedic scenes, the acting is noticeably worse when the show shifts to a more serious tone. This proves especially true for leading lady Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, whose expressions feel hollow when playing emotional scenes. Yet despite some awkward moments, the actors maintain strong chemistry, which is more important for a show that relies so heavily on romance.

Despite “Never Have I Ever”’s shortcomings, it still succeeds in being an entertaining and lighthearted watch, which is refreshing in a genre riddled with dramas that sensationalize the lives of teenagers. Season three upkeeps the charm and charisma of the previous seasons while exploring a maturer side to the characters. While other shows tend to deteriorate at this point in their run time, “Never Have I Ever” takes advantage of what it’s good at and continues to improve its formula. There is no doubt that future seasons will continue to appeal to their young audience with their invigorating take on teen drama.