“I just remembered, I have to go home! Because I have a package coming that I need to sign for.” If you were in the middle of a boring conversation with a third-string acquaintance, such a terrible excuse would be a shrug. Not great — but fine. But, if you were to babble such a string of words to the hottest person in your zip code while he’s shirtless and trying to seduce you, it’s melt-into-the-floor cringeworthy.
It’s also exactly what Netflix’s Never Have I Ever heroine Devi (dazzling newcomer Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) does the moment swim team hottie Paxton (Darren Barnet) hands her a beer and moves in for the kind of kiss that’s meant to turn into sex. Devi — who is the one that propositioned Paxton just an episode earlier — runs. Devi runs so fast she cuts herself on one of Paxton’s many swim trophies and rambles about a retro disease.
While watching all of this awkwardness go down in second Never Have I Ever episode “...Had Sex With Paxton Hall-Yoshida,” you’ll likely shut your eyes with feel-it-in-your-bones mortification (or recollection). That’s the point. During an era when TV teen sex is glossier than ever, Never Have I Ever — created and executive produced by TV rom-com queen Mindy Kaling —is ready to stare down every fumbly fear that teens have ever had about sex and embrace them.
“I related my teenage years to Devi. I was very much into boys, very much wanting to know what everything was about,” Lee Rodriguez, who plays Devi’s best friend Fabiola, told Refinery29 from a hotel in West Hollywood, comfortably sitting on a couch with co-stars Maitreyi Ramakrishnan and Ramona Young. “So watching Devi, I just had secondhand embarrassment. Because I was just like, Oh, gosh, that is just so me. A lot of other people the same age as Devi or older will relate to that.”
Ramakrishnan agreed with her friend, adding, “In a lot of coming-of-age stories, kids are all like, Oh, yeah, let’s go have sex. And then they’re experts? But these girls are not.”
That’s why 15-year-old Devi turns to her pals for answers in Never. After the Paxton incident in “Paxton,” she reconvenes with her best friends to complain about fade-to-black sex scenes in movies (“Is she stopping at the penis or kissing all the way to the foot?!”). The girls remedy their confusion by practicing Wikipedia-explained kegels together —”I honestly didn’t know what kegels were,” said Rodriguez — and quizzing each other about sex positions with the aide of fuzzy stuffed toy bears. By the end of the montage, Devi knows her reverse cowgirl move from her so-called “Trust Bird” like the back of her hand.
“A part of sex is scary. But there’s another part where we’re genuinely curious and we’re genuinely experiencing this for the first time and we actually want to know,” Young, who plays ultra dramatic theater kid Eleanor, said of the Never Have I Ever girls. “It’s scary, but at the same time it’s a positive thing. It’s exciting."
No Never Have I Ever character feels that tension between excitement and nerves around sex as strongly as Fabiola, who slowly realizes she is queer over the course of the comedy’s first season. In one of the most emotional scenes of an already emotional show, Fabiola — who has been crushing on cool girl Eve (Christina Kartchner) for episodes — opens up to the only “person” she feels comfortable being honest with: a robot named Gears Brosnan. Gears’ specialty is saying whatever students tap into his tablet.
“I’m gay,” Fabiola has Gears say to close out “...Gotten Drunk With the Popular Kids.” The moment comes after Fabiola subtly attempts to broach the topic of her sexuality with her well-meaning and gossipy mom, only to be told “boyfriends are the best part of high school.” Using Gears is the sole way Fabiola can speak her truth out loud.
Fabiola's quiet coming out tale feels worlds away from the hyper vocal queer sexuality in Euphoria or the period of Riverdale when Kevin Keller (Casey Cott) loudly defended his right to go cruising in the woods during a serial killer's reign of terror. While teen viewers need to see newly minted out-and-proud icons like Jules Vaughn (Hunter Schafer), Fabiola reminds us that in real life, everyone doesn’t have a complete handle on their sexuality by 15. If IRL teens are still exploring their feelings — or how to share them with their loved ones — they’re not painfully behind schedule.
“Sexual identity, your sexual orientation — it’s very important because it’s still something that young people are going through. How they process it and how other people process it is different,” Rodriguez says of her character’s journey. “But you can relate to it. It’s important so people don’t feel alone, especially at a young age.”
With Never Have I Ever, the Devis of the world — and the Fabs and the Eleanors — won’t anymore.