Are you looking for a new teen rom-com to binge-watch while in quarantine? Better add Netflix’s Never Have I Ever to your list and I’m pretty sure you won’t be able to hit stop once you tap on the start button. The show follows the complicated life of a modern-day first-generation Indian American teenage girl Devi who has had a very tragic first year of high school but is doing her best to move forward and live normally with the help of her best friends Fabiola and Eleanor.
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At a phone interview, we had the chance to speak with one of the creators of Netflix’s new coming of age show Never Have I Ever. American comedian, actress, writer, and director Mindy Kaling shares how it is loosely based on her teen life, how it’s different from other coming of age shows out there, and more. Read the full interview below:
Question: What was your inspiration for creating the show? Did you face any difficulties story-wise and production-wise?
Mindy Kaling: You know with the story, it’s funny because it’s so personal and it draws so much from my childhood. But it actually comes from Brooke Kessler who is an executive at Netflix who had read both my books and really enjoyed the parts about my teenage years. And even though they were really small portions of my book, she felt that it would make a really good TV show.
I had never written anything for teenagers and I was kind of scared of it, to be honest. I think it’s because my own teenage years are fraught with awkwardness and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to delve into that world for comedy. But I had a friend Lang [Fisher] who had been working on The Mindy Project for years and who had worked on 30 Rock and we both bonded over being nerds all throughout high school. And we felt that the kind of nerds that we were had not been seen on TV and it felt like a really fun opportunity.
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Question: What was the most fun scene to shoot for you?
Mindy Kaling: The testament of how much I love the show is that when we were doing it, my co-creator asked me if I wanted to be in it because it would make sense for this world with so many Indian characters for me to be in the show. And I said, “You know what? I don’t want to do it because I think I don’t want to be distracting to be a part of the show.” I want it to live like its own and not feel like I don’t know what I’m looming over it more than just being a co-creator. And so she said sure.
So when we started shooting with almost every single day that I was on set watching, I was like, why the hell did I say that? This is so fun, I was allowed to be on the show, the characters are so funny, I would just love that. But in terms of a specific day, I think anytime that Devi is in her History classroom with her teachers and all the other kids in her class, those are the funniest because they really feel very much like what my high school experience was like, and felt that was very cathartic and fun. And the kids are just so funny when they’re bouncing off of each other and the teacher and they’re behaving poorly. I just love those classroom scenes.
Question: What’s one thing about the show you’re proud of?
Mindy Kaling: I’m so honored to be able to be the first person to depict an Indian-American Teenager On TV in a starring role, that’s the thing I think I’m most proud of. And I’m also really proud that we found Maitreyi who’s such a gifted performer, and she was a high schooler at a public school in Canada. And through our search, we uncovered her. I think those are the things that I’m really most excited about.
Question: Why do you think Never Have I Ever would stand out from other coming of age shows out there?
Mindy Kaling: One of the things that’s unique about the show is the way that it deals with grief. My co-creator Lang and I both lost parents unexpectedly and that was something that we really wanted to show with our protagonists struggle. And, you know, that’s not very funny and both of us come from shows that have a lot of jokes and comedy, so we wanted to do that.
I think we wanted to see if we could do it and stretch as writers and try to encompass all of it while also having her be this horny teenager. She’s also dealing with this great amount of grief and to me, that felt unusual. We watched a lot of really great teen shows in preparation for this and that was one thing that felt unique to our show.
Question: What piece of advice would you give your 15-year-old self?
Mindy Kaling: Me in particular as a 15-year-old I was so confident that if like some 40-year-old woman was like, “Here’s my advice to you,” I’ll be like, “I’m okay, I don’t need any advice from some old bag.” *laughs* That said, I’m not sure my 15-year-old self would have listened to me. But I think the biggest advice would have been practical: don’t take nude photos of yourself, don’t send nude photos of yourself to anybody, don’t put anything up on YouTube even if you think it’s super hilarious because I guarantee you in five years it will not be hilarious and it’ll come back to haunt you. So those kinds of protective things I think I would have tried to instill in my younger self. I was lucky because I was too old for that so there’s no trace of me that time.
Never Have I Ever is now streaming on Netflix. Watch it here.