Since gracing our screens in 2020, when the world most needed a show that dealt with grief, friendship, and love, "Never Have I Ever" has pushed what a teen drama could do. With the series now concluded, our screens are left without one of the most lovable trios to ever grace Netflix's watchlist. In this ranking, we will classify the seasons in the only way appropriate: from innocent to empty glass.
Good as Gold: Season 1
Starting strong with the very first season, Series 1 topped the charts. Beginning with the goal of increasing their popularity and transitioning from undateable nerds to the in-crowd of the hot pocket, Devi and her friends embark on a journey of self-discovery and explore who they truly want to be.
In this first season alone, Devi accomplishes a lot: she propositions the hottest guy at school, gets drunk at a party, starts the long process of dealing with life without her dad, navigates her cultural identity, moves out (and back in), and scatters her father's ashes. It's an exhilarating ride for the trio, and that's not even mentioning Eleanor's shocking discovery about her mother's lies or Fabiola's realization that she's gay.
Season 1 sets the gold standard for an introductory series. Within minutes, we come to know exactly who these characters are and are exposed to Devi's struggles with significant aspects of life, such as losing a family member, dealing with trauma, and feeling like an outsider. At the same time, we witness her grappling with the smaller challenges, like attempting to check out a hot guy in a car park.
As Devi takes center stage, Fabiola and Eleanor serve as perfect foils, each embodying unique qualities that complement one another. It becomes undeniable that these individuals would naturally be friends in the real world.
Then there's the ultimate draw of the series, which encompasses so many larger themes: the love triangle. Whether you're Team Ben or Team Paxton, the internet ignited with debates between the two sides, mirroring Devi's own divided whiteboard. It struck the perfect balance for a teen drama – the unattainable, sporty dream guy versus the smart academic rival stuck in the friend zone.
We witness Devi grappling with her own grief while witnessing the implosion of friendships and family around her. This first series is jam-packed with character-building moments and culminates in one of the most emotional scenes of the entire show. In that scene, Devi falls into her mother's arms as they scatter her father's ashes into the ocean, symbolizing her personal growth throughout the 10 episodes. It's no coincidence that a moment of peace and acceptance is followed by one of her first significant romantic moments with her match.
Just a Sip: Season 4
I'm ALWAYS a huge fan of representing myself when the college/university experience doesn't go as expected. After films like The Kissing Booth normalized fictional characters effortlessly getting into Ivy League schools, it's refreshing to see beloved characters struggling with their own futures and the realization that in life, unexpected obstacles are bound to arise. Devi's unwavering dedication and pride in her academics, despite being labeled as a 'nerd,' and her navigation of the social dynamics that come with it hit close to home.
Witnessing her push forward with a plan, only to face setbacks, stand back up, and then be knocked onto the waitlist was simultaneously heart-wrenching and entertaining. Eleanor and Fabiola's individual journeys toward defining their own versions of success covered a wide range of topics, including jealousy, breaking into the creative industry, and fighting for what you truly want instead of conforming to expectations. The final season offered valuable lessons that any teenager would find relatable and takeaway from.
Aside from friendships, "Never Have I Ever" has always excelled at examining family dynamics, and the last season was no exception. The Vishwakumar family has always prioritized protecting their own, so witnessing Devi's mother and grandmother explore their own romantic possibilities hinted at happier times ahead for the entire family.
A particular standout moment occurred when Devi played matchmaker for her mother, whom she had previously stalked at a date's house. Despite her efforts being executed with her own unique brashness, observing her acceptance and support of her mother's dating life showcased significant character development throughout the show.
As a big Team Paxton fan (sorry, not sorry!), watching Devi end up with Ben was a tough pill to swallow. However, being a romantic at heart, the cozy montage of our favorite teen lead, curled up on a bed at her dream college with a guy who has proven himself to be pretty dedicated to her, at least recently, I couldn't wish for a better ending.
Take A Shot: Season 2
Season 2 tackles a LOT of issues, from gender discrimination to eating disorders, and Devi is at her most impulsive throughout the series. While we start to see some of her more problematic behaviors called into question, watching Devi’s actions cause such heartbreak to her closest friends is decidedly uncomfortable. The constant struggle with Devi’s identity is a big theme in this season and is embodied by the Big 3 of the season: the rumor, the voicemail, and the love triangle.
The voicemail that Devi clutches is one of the more touching moments in the series. Seeing her drop it in Dr. Jackson's swimming pool from a stakeout point on her roof, fearing that her mom has found a replacement so soon, makes for some emotionally intense viewing.
Throughout the series, relationships with parents take center stage. Eleanor's mother makes an effort to re-enter her life, and Fabiola grapples with her mother's attention towards her dating life. Devi's cousin Kamala also struggles with parental expectations and the dynamics of being a woman in a male-dominated field. With themes of peer/parental pressure, identity, and reputation, this season is emotionally weightier, but highly relatable.
Louisa Mellor makes a good case for the charm of the second season, writing her review in Den of Geek:
Season two gets the chance to explore some of those perspectives in more satisfying detail than last time. Fabiola’s identity crisis for instance, doesn’t end when she comes out as a lesbian, and Paxton won’t be the only one educated by a brief exploration of his Japanese family history. Inspired by co-creator Mindy Kaling adolescence, Devi’s Indian family is still rightly centre-stage, and it’s great to see both her mother Nalini (Poorna Jagannathan) and her cousin Kamala (Richa Moorjani) given solid B-plots this time around.
Now, this list has already involved some shuffling of ratings, but what puts season 2 just slightly ahead of the episodes below is the absolute barrage of emotional turmoil crammed into 10 episodes. As Mellor explains, the themes set up in season 1 are given room to breathe and expand beyond the nerve-wracking pilot run, and though it misses some of the charm, it manages to explore so much within so few hours.
Chug The Bottle: Season 3
As much as it pains me to place any season of this show which has captured my heart, in the last place, if one has to be here, it's Season 3. Now, don't get me wrong: watching Devi date while her mom learns to accept it is incredibly entertaining. However, something about this season feels like a means to an end.
And in that end, the triumph of Season 4 is truly worth it. While character development is certainly present throughout the rest of the seasons, including this one to some extent, we witness a more mature side of the cast that becomes particularly evident in the final series.
While, personally, it didn't stand up to the other seasons, Vanity Fair's David Canfield gives a good argument for why the season might stand out to other viewers:
You see Devi’s adolescent world and Nalini’s adult world gradually expanding—daughter and mother growing patient with one another, each less irked by the other’s every move, more focused on themselves. Toward the season’s conclusion, though, these spheres again contract as the continued weight of their collective grief and the looming reality of Devi entering adulthood pulls them closer—and the show toward greater emotional resonance.
And this is exactly what "Never Have I Ever" season 3 does best: it provides a perfect transition from the Devi we've seen struggle through life for the past couple of years to a more rounded adult in the final season. While it's not the most rewatchable and decidedly not the show at its best, this season provides a necessary bridge into Devi discovering who she is and what she wants out of life. So, while season 1 will forever rule my heart, the penultimate run can gracefully take a forfeit, even if it never had a chance of winning.
Never Have I Ever...
watched a show that understands teen life, troubles, and family ties as well as this one does. "Never Have I Ever" provides the representation of friendship, family, grief, and identity that has long been missing from the Netflix queue. It's unlikely that a show this good will happen again anytime soon. While it's sad to see these talented, driven characters depart from our screens, the four-season run is a classic that I will definitely return to for an annual watch, knowing that our awkward, nerdy, opinionated teen is going to have the time of her life in the real world. And hey, maybe Paxton could be on the cards again later along the line...
All images courtesy of NETFLIX and @neverhaveiever on Instagram.