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Never Have I Ever Season 4 Review: ...Had A Bittersweet Goodbye

EDITORS' RATING : 8.5 / 10
  • The cast is stellar
  • The storylines are mostly well-done
  • There are several characters who play major roles early in the season and haven't shown up before or since

For three seasons, "Never Have I Ever" has seen its protagonists split their time between lusting after guys and chasing high school over-achievement, with an emphasis on the former. The final season is more of the same, but the emphasis has shifted more to academic accomplishment, with an emphasis on platonic friendships. In fact, the final season is a perfect amalgamation of all the things that high school girls tend to be concerned with, and overall it's fantastic.

The fourth season picks up moments after the third ended, with Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) in Ben's (Jaren Lewison) bed. They've just had sex — and it was bad. But instead of trying to smooth things over or try again, Ben just asks if he should call her an Uber. Devi doesn't see Ben for the entirety of the summer, and by the time they do meet again on the first day of their final year of school, he's dating someone else.

But this is just one storyline among many. Fabiola (Lee Rodriguez) gets into Princeton, Devi's dream school, early while Devi gets deferred. Trent (Benjamin Norris) breaks up with Eleanor (Ramona Young), and Eleanor graduates a semester early so she can pursue work as an actor. Paxton (Darren Barnet) drops out of Arizona State University and takes a job at his old high school coaching swimming, to many people's joy for various reasons. Kamala (Richa Moorjani) is offered a job in Maryland, but turns it down because she doesn't know anyone there. Devi's mom (Poorna Jagannathan) meets a man who she's interested in, and Devi's fine with it (a big change from earlier). Pati (Ranjita Chakravarty) marries her white boyfriend (Jeff Garlin) in a gorgeous wedding. And eventually, high school ends and the kids move on to greater things.

It's also the rare season that actually encompasses a year in the life of Devi and her friends. Knowing the timing of the beginning and end of the season helps the viewer understand approximately when certain things happen, especially when it comes to Devi's struggle to get into college. Still, some parts of it are less successful than others.

What's bad

The biggest problem I have with the final season of "Never Have I Ever" is that it introduces new characters that we've never seen before, but who were apparently there the whole time. For example, in the first episode Devi is intent on getting a teacher's recommendation, but we've never met that teacher (Jenny O'Hara) before, even though the woman is such a battle-ax that she tends to tell everyone exactly what she thinks of their shenanigans ... for a single episode. It defies credibility, and feels like the product of either a writing shortcut or budget constraints.

Even more egregious is the handling of the new Hot Pocket and Devi's eventual short-term boyfriend, Ethan (Michael Cimino). The Hot Pocket has been the group consisting of Paxton and his friends for most of the show, but this year it's a group of totally new boys, led by Ethan. We're told that Ethan and his friends have been there the whole time, Ethan's just now grown to be tall enough to notice. More importantly, after Devi realizes that Ethan, to paraphrase Devi, isn't just a bad boy, he's a bad person, we never see him again. That feels especially silly because he's in Devi's classes.

Ethan was a last-minute addition because they needed someone to be Devi's boyfriend for a couple episodes and nothing more, and therefore the relationship wasn't as meaningful. While Devi has previously had another boyfriend outside of Paxton and Ben, he was Indian as well and his mother was friends with Devi's mother, so they had more of a connection. Plus, he went to another school, so it made sense that he didn't appear again after she stopped dating him. Ethan, on the other hand, was a delinquent at her high school. While she learned from the experience that it wasn't worth dating a bad boy, it wasn't necessarily a lesson she needed to learn.

What's good

While the last minute additions of Devi's teacher and boyfriend are disappointing, the season as a whole is great. Each character's storyline is compelling, especially Fabiola's thread about the Robotics Club and Princeton. And of course, the acting is superb. But Devi's story takes center stage as always, and this time her troubles go beyond boys. In fact, the climax of the season doesn't have to do with boys at all. It has to do with Devi's struggle to get into Princeton.

As a result, this season has more of an emphasis on things that have a greater adult sheen, including Devi becoming more mature and willing to let go. She still lies when the truth seems too hard, but at least now she's doing it for better reasons. In fact, to some degree everyone's matured and grown over the four seasons of "Never Have I Ever," and the product of that growth is seen in this season. Paxton coaches a student to swim team success, Fabiola decides on a college based on her preferences, not what's "best," and Eleanor decides to direct. Plus the finale gives Devi a boy along with all the other things she's been waiting for. And while part of the reason Devi didn't get this particular boy before the finale likely has to do with wanting the show to go out with a bang, that doesn't take away from the good stuff the final season has offered us.

There's far more good than bad here. This isn't a show that has drastically changed its tone, but that's for the best. In the broad scheme of things, a high school show about characters like these won't have the hard-hitting impact of a show like "Succession" or "Game of Thrones." The world doesn't rise and fall based on Devi's ability to get into a good college. But for Devi, these are the things that matter, and at the time we witness them, they feel like life and death for her. As a result, "Never Have I Ever" is the perfect combination of breezy and serious, and it's all the better for it.

The fourth and final season of "Never Have I Ever" premieres June 8 on Netflix.