Netflix’s coming-of-age series Never Have I Ever is praised for its comedy. However, it’s also known for its problematic teen lead. Just how toxic is Devi, and what fuels her controversial behavior?

Netflix’s hit comedy Never Have I Ever was co-created by The Office veteran Mindy Kaling, who’s known for her hilarious takes on realistic lives. That’s exactly what the coming-of-age series has going for it. Kaling uses her own experiences to depicts Indian culture on screen. That kind of representation in Hollywood is severely lacking, so it’s refreshing to see actor Maitreyi Ramakrishnan as Devi Vishwakumar.

RELATED: How Netflix’s CEO Uses This Ancient Greek Philosophy Concept for Success

However, Devi wasn’t created for the sole purpose of presenting the Indian-American experience. Devi is a vessel for exploring the teen experience — the good, the bad and the ugly. Kaling takes that idea so far that she may have made Devi one of Netflix’s most problematic, and toxic, main characters. She’s repeatedly referred to as “Crazy Devi,” which is slightly offensive, sure. But that’s a theme of Never Have I Ever, and part of its charm.

That said, Kaling has received backlash for aspects of Devi’s character. Let’s explore that criticism, and what fuels Devi’s bad behavior. But let’s also discuss trauma, and how Never Have I Ever captures the inability to cope with death.

Why Devi From Never Have I Ever Is Toxic

Devi Vishwakumar and Ben Gross in Netflix's Never Have I Ever
Courtesy of Netflix

Everyone loves Devi, not because she’s a good person, but because she’s had so little redemption that it’s comical. However, if you take a look at what makes Devi such a bad person, you start to realize it’s more relevant than we think. Teenagers sometimes make bad choices, but Devi makes them more frequently than her peers do.

Devi has a history of mild racism, especially when it comes to Indian culture. Throughout Never Have I Ever, including the newly released third season, she makes deprecating comments about Indian people, alluding to them not being attractive or cool. That’s what sparked much of the initial backlash against Devi. Rather than embracing being Indian, Devi is just as guilty of stereotyping, and using offensive tropes to refer to her culture. However, some viewers also believe that’s realistic. Given that Devi is one of the only Indian kids in her California high school, and not as popular as she’d hoped, she may have internalized a narrative that her background is to blame for her social status. Feeling excluded could have spiraled those thoughts, which may be a realistic progression for Devi as a teen trying to discover who she is.

RELATED: Beyoncé Removes a Toxic Slur From “Heated” and Helps Change the World’s View of a Word

Other than being mildly racist, Devi is also just mean. In Season 2, she starts a rumor, which turns out to true, about her new Indian-Muslim friend, Aneesa (played by Megan Suri). In a fit of rage, Devi tells a few classmates that Aneesa doesn’t eat, and is probably anorexic. That encourages Aneesa’s mother to want to pull her out of Sherman Oaks High School to avoid the ridicule she experienced at her previous school. Devi gets suspended, as she should. To make matters worse, while attempting to make a public apology, Devi only further embarrasses Aneesa, and digs herself a hole from which viewers thought she would never escape.

Devi’s problematic antics don’t stop there, however. Let’s not forget about how she dated Ben Gross (Jaren Lewison) and Paxton Hall-Yoshida (Darren Barnet) at the same time. We also can’t forget how she purposely ditched her friend, Eleanor (Ramona Young), during an epic family emergency for Paxton. Devi isn’t a good girlfriend or a good friend. We’ve seen that proved over and over again, as she places her selfish wants above the needs of her friends. But is Devi a bad person, or is she simply trying to navigate her trauma?  

What Devi From Never Have I Ever Shows Us About Trauma

Devi Vishwakumar and Paxton Hall-Yoshida in Never Have I Ever
Courtesy of Netflix

If you’re not familiar with Never Have I Ever, then you might not know Devi’s story. During a school orchestra concert in which Devi was meant to perform, her father, Mohan, died from a sudden heart attack.

Following Mohan’s death, Devi’s trauma was expressed in a strange way – through paralysis. She was in a wheelchair for a while, because she lost feeling in her legs. Devi attends therapy sessions, where her psychologist (played by Niecy Nash) practically begs her to talk about her father so they can figure out the best way for to move forward in her grief. Devi frequently sees her father whenever she needs advice. She even once thought she sensed Mohan’s spirit in a coyote that appeared near her father’s forgotten tomato garden.

RELATED: What Wes Anderson’s ‘The Royal Tenenbaums’ Taught Us About Finding Humor in Trauma and Dysfunction

All of that is to say, Devi clearly isn’t handling her father’s death in the most constructive manner. While we can’t excuse everything Devi does and says, the most important takeaway from Never Have I Ever is that grief comes in waves, and sometimes skews our perception of the world. Devi insisted on becoming popular, and focused solely on her reputation, which made her lose sight of what was truly important – her friends and family.

How We Can Help Our Loved Ones Deal With Trauma?

Eleanor, Fabiola and Aneesa in Devi's in Devi's bedroom, in Never Have I Ever
Courtesy of Netflix

Devi’s best friends, Fabiola (Lee Rodriguez) and Eleanor, repeatedly forgive Devi for neglecting them and placing her romantic relationships before her friendships. Although her actions aren’t acceptable, her friends have a level of compassion for Devi’s mental state. Devi takes offense to her nickname, “Crazy Devi,” but her behavior inspires that. Despite all of the irrational, rage-filled and self-centered situations in which Devi finds herself, Eleanor and Fabiola always find their way back to her.

Why? At the end of the day, Fabiola and Eleanor know Devi’s conduct is motivated primarily by her trauma. Teenagers don’t always have the necessary coping mechanisms when it comes to death, mostly because their brains aren’t fully developed. However, that’s also because they (most likely) haven’t experienced enough of life to really see anything that devastating. Unfortunately for Devi, she went through something that uprooted and shifted her world, and there’s no guidebook for that.

RELATED: How Tyler Perry Overcame Trauma to Become Hollywood’s Highest-Paid Man

When Devi is viewed through a sympathetic lens, it’s easy to see that, above all else, she’s a teen who is not only struggling to fit in, but she’s doing so while struggling to come to terms with the death of her father. Having friends who can remain patient with her through that difficult journey is critical to Devi’s growth. We can see that growth in Season 3.

The biggest takeaway from Never Have I Ever is that grief isn’t linear, and can manifest in many forms. As friends watching someone we love go through grief, it’s crucial to hold them accountable for their questionable actions, but to also be empathetic and understanding of the process.

KEEP READING:

Personal Vs. Group Therapy: Which Mental Health Journey Is Right for You?