Devi Vishwakumar wants her sophomore year to be perfect. She longs for a hot boyfriend, invites to parties, and to shake the label of "unf*ckable nerd" bestowed upon her by teen cruelty. But as Never Have I Ever star Maitreyi Ramakrishnan tells Bustle, all these things are mere distractions for her character. Devi is grieving the sudden death of her father, an incident so traumatizing that it temporarily paralyzed her legs.
Mixing shades of Sex Education with To All the Boys I've Loved Before, Never Have I Ever is a coming-of-age story about cultural identity, familial tragedy, and simply feeling like an unpopular, horny teen. Devi's grief and uncertainty about who she is ripples out into her personal relationships, causing her to clash with her more traditional mom over everything from boys and curfew to her reluctance to embrace being Indian. She lies about losing her virginity. She mocks her cousin Kamala, who she believes is the perfect Indian daughter her mom wishes she had. And she waffles between being there for her friends and pursuing her blooming connection with the über popular Paxton (Darren Barnet).
"Identity is really important," Ramakrishnan explains. "It's not only how you show yourself to the world and those around you, but it's also how you accept yourself." For Devi, who feels disconnected from her culture and family, self-acceptance is not a thing that comes easily, and Ramakrishnan says Devi is "constantly on this whole journey to find what's going to make her happy."
She often doesn't go about it in the right way, and that's most clear in her relationships with Paxton and classroom rival-turned-friend Ben (Jaren Lewison). "Devi is guilty of just seeing Paxton as being hot, and not being a guy with actual emotions and feelings," Ramakrishnan says. In comparison, Devi "knows Ben more as a person," yet she's quick to use him as a reprieve whenever she doesn't want to deal with her mom.
The season ends with the possibility of a major love triangle, but Ramakrishnan says that Devi's pursuit of boys is superficial compared to what would really give her happiness: truly confronting her dad's death and "getting her own sh*t together first." Though we see Devi take a major step towards healing and mending the rift with her mom in the season finale, she still has quite a bit of growing to do in a potential Season 2.
"She still doesn't know who she is," Ramakrishnan explains, pointing out that it wouldn't be healthy if Devi got with Paxton or Ben right now. "That's just going to make everything harder for her to figure it out. I think Devi needs to learn who she is before she even thinks about guys and getting into a relationship with somebody."
If Never Have I Ever gets renewed, Ramakrishnan says that she'd like to see Devi grow to understand how platonic love for her friends and family can be "just as powerful as romantic love." Ramakrishnan also wants to see Devi journey towards nurturing her own self-acceptance, separate from any validation she might get from having a boyfriend or being the most-talked about person in school.
"Some people really don't know how to love themselves and be their own best friend," Ramakrishnan says. "And I really think that's what Devi needs."