It may be an impossible task to write a review as perfect as season three of “Never Have I Ever.”
What’s for certain is that, like himbo-turned-passionate borderline intellectual Paxton Hall-Yoshida (Darren Barnet, “Love Hard”), “NHIE” has graduated. While season one repped a fair number of strong suits that the show retains and expands upon this season, such as a bizarre but striking choice of narrator, mostly acclaimed representation — Tamil and otherwise — and some absolutely sick burns, it was also a painful watch for those of us who simply cannot bear “cringe humor” (or awkward encounters IRL). In seasons one and two, audience members found themselves frequently frustrated with main character Devi Vishwakumar (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, “Turning Red”) as she hurt those in her vicinity, most notably her mother, Nalini (Poorna Jagannathan, “Better Call Saul”) and sabotaged herself in the midst of her grief for her late dad. This is not to say that grief is purely negative or that it disappears in season three, rather that we begin to see Devi’s life grow around her grief and enduring love for her father. Instead of chasing fantasies, Devi comes into her own, grounding herself in the present by way of gratitude. In turn, “NHIE” excels by playing to its strengths — exploring relationship struggles and vulnerability.
The season features more relationships than you can keep up with. Previously, Devi’s relationship contenders were limited to school heartthrob Paxton and hot-in-a-different-way intellectual competitor Ben (Jaren Lewison, “90 Feet from Home”). While both remain strong players, season three introduces Des (Anirudh Pisharody, “Cerebrum”), popular nerd (yes, you heard me) from another school and son of Nalini’s new friend Rhyah (Sarayu Rao, “Hollywood Stargirl”). Fabiola (Lee Rodriguez, “grown-ish”), for her part, does the lesbian community proud as she navigates not one, not two but THREE different relationships this season, aided and abetted by the arrival of stunning non-binary lesbian Addison (brought to life by non-binary actor Terry Hu, “Z-O-M-B-I-E-S 3”). And, in what is truly the oddest but strangely wholesome pairing, Eleanor (Ramona Young, “Legends of Tomorrow”) embarks on a relationship with loveable stoner Trent (Benjamin Norris, “WTF!”).
The relationships of previous seasons emphasized sex scenes pretty heavily, and while season three certainly isn’t a “dry season,” the relationships feature a different kind of maturity. The characters grapple with the same questions that keep all of us up at night: Can the relationship thrive if my partner doesn’t match me intellectually? What do I do if I value the relationship but the spark is missing? Is love enough? People say the point of dating is to find the person you’ll marry. While that does describe the basics of dating, the Sherman Oaks high schoolers’ dating escapades, particularly Devi’s relationship with Paxton, illustrate that even if someone isn’t the “one,” the space and time they occupy in your life is still meaningful enough that it could even change the trajectory of your life. In the wise words of Trent, “If you love something, let it go to Arizona.”
The romantic relationships do not disappoint, but the true highlight of the season is witnessing the evolution of Devi’s relationship with her mother Nalini. When we first met the mother-daughter pair, they fought constantly, and Devi resented that Nalini was the parent left alive. Now, Devi’s mother is her rock — even when Devi’s tears come as a result of activities Nalini does not endorse, she is there to dry them and remind her daughter of her worth. When Rhyah has the gall to suggest that Devi’s trauma makes her an unsuitable relationship partner, Nalini defends her daughter with fierce loyalty and tells her now ex-friend exactly where to shove it. But the harsh words still get to Devi, and she musters the courage to verbalize her thoughts to her mother. “What if nobody ever loves me because I’m always too much?” Nalini replies, “You’re never too much, and you’re always enough. And one day you will find someone who loves you exactly as you are, just like I do.” It is this ultimate expression of vulnerability that allows Devi to heal her relationship with her mother and with herself.
Once an awkward youngster who sought external validation to heal her fractured self-esteem, Devi blossoms into an adult who still has insecurities but learns her own worth as she invests her energy in the relationships that matter most. When faced with a choice to leave home early for an incredible academic opportunity or spend her senior year in Sherman Oaks, it’s not keg parties and senior ditch day with her friends that compel Devi to stay: It’s that she needs one more year with her mom. It is in this tear-soaked plea for more time that Devi learns the meaning of gratitude and cherishes the present.
In a callback to season one, season three ends with Devi at a boy’s doorstep asking for sex — but the tone feels somewhat different now. You feel excited for Devi, not embarrassed for her, because instead of structuring all of her endeavors around reaching an arbitrary mile marker dictated by a patriarchal society, Devi is behaving to express her love and gratitude. I feel compelled to say I couldn’t be prouder of Devi, but only “NHIE”’s fourth and final season will tell us if that’s true.
TV Beat Editor Emmy Snyder can be reached at email@example.com.