Film and TV

Never Have I Ever Co-Stars Visit Phoenix, Talk About Their Netflix Hit Teenage Dramedy

Lee Rodriguez (left) and Ramona Young are co-stars of the Netflix dramedy Never Have I Ever.
Lee Rodriguez (left) and Ramona Young are co-stars of the Netflix dramedy Never Have I Ever. Netflix
Netflix’s coming-of-age teen dramedy Never Have I Ever is entering its third season with the premiere dropping on the streamer this Friday. It follows the trials and tribulations of American Indian high-schooler Devi Vishwakumar (played by Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) and her circle of friends attending Sherman Oaks High.

Of those close-knit friends are Fabiola and Eleanor, played by Lee Rodriguez and Ramona Young respectively. The two were recently in Phoenix to promote the show and answered some questions about the changing tide in female teen culture, the young men who affect that, and how their characters are changing the landscape of social acceptance.

There hasn’t been a shortage of coming-of-age shows in the past 40-plus years. From Happy Days to The Wonder Years to every conservative parent’s worst nightmare, HBO’s Euphoria, these programs hopefully give truthful insight into the current generation’s slice of life. Never Have I Ever fits into a place between heavy drama and situational comedy.

Both Rodriguez and Young agree that their show is an apt representation of their zeitgeist.

“I think there's a lot of like modern-day elements that are incorporated,” says Rodriguez. “And I know when Mindy [Kaling] first created the show, she really wanted to set it in modern times. And there are elements of that in our show in Season 3; there's like a lot of like texting, phone, DM stuff. So, that's very relevant.”

Kaling is an actress, writer, director, and producer who shot to stardom on the popular American sitcom The Office. In 2020, she created Never Have I Ever alongside executive producer and writer Lang Fisher. The idea was to create a coming-of-age story that loosely resembled Kaling’s life as an Indian American teenager in Boston. It was praised for breaking stereotypes often depicted in popular media about that culture.

Although Fabiola and Eleanor are there for Devi, the partial personification of Kaling, they have their own personal arcs. For instance, Fabiola is a gay student trying to make her way through school. Rodriguez, 22, who came out publicly in 2020, says one of the things she loves about playing Fabiola isn’t that she’s openly gay; it’s how she’s not stereotyped because of her identity. The actress says her experience was unlike her character’s.

“For me personally, I was clueless in high school,” she explains. “It wasn’t until after high school where I was like, ‘You know what, it is OK for me to, you know, like more than one gender.’ In high school, I just didn't think about it. And so, yeah, Fabiola is ahead of me personally. I wish I would have been more, I don't know, where … I questioned myself a little bit more.”

For Young, who plays Eleanor, the question isn’t about her character’s sexual orientation — she’s straight. It’s what to wear to school every day. As the levelheaded one of the group, she keeps the peace, but her wardrobe can sometimes be flamboyant or distractingly colorful right down to the accessories. The question might be that with all the sartorial distractions, is it a diversion from something more personal?

Young, 24, says her character is just creative, but sometimes her clothes do define her mood. “I think in Season 1, actually, there's an episode where Eleanor gets really depressed, and instead of dressing up, she wears all beige.

“I wouldn’t think too deeply about it,” Young adds. “I think most of that comes from the creative mind of Glinda [Suarez], who's a genius costume designer. Sometimes, she'll be like, 'I put this piece on you because it symbolizes this scene and this moment.' So, she does all of that. And I just get the joy of wearing all this awesome stuff.”

Behind the adolescent drama of Never Have I Ever, there are strong female characters. Prominent still is how they deal with the males in their lives. The adult characters find themselves navigating through traditional cultural relationship tensions with the opposite sex. While the youngsters, in between math and English studies, have to contend with puberty, too.

Devi is a tad insecure with her once-womanizing boyfriend Paxton (Darren Barnet), who is also a fellow student. While the series’ other prominent male character, the academic-minded Ben (Jaren Lewison), harbors feelings for Devi himself. The males in the series lean heavily on their female counterparts for support, but they also seem to be the cause of all the problems.

With the #MeToo movement and the fight for women’s rights currently at the forefront of American politics, what message does this send about toxic masculinity and gender roles in the modern age? Young is quick to defend the show.

“I think there is a lot of development and growth happening in both the female and male characters,” says Young. “I know, like maybe Fabiola and Eleanor are far from perfect and the same with Ben and Paxton; we're all just figuring it out.”

Now that Season 3 is a wrap, both Rodriguez and Young are free to perform in other projects. While Young is having the time of her life doing shorts, and venturing out into writing, Rodriguez says she will continue acting and delving further into her music career. “Lee is one of the most talented musicians I have ever heard in my whole life,” says Young.

Rodriguez is also an environmental activist who finds the recent Supreme Court rulings against the Environmental Protection Agency disappointing, saying, “It does get a little depressing, but I mean all you can do is keep fighting and keep using your voice.”

For fans of Never Have I Ever, there is good news and bad news about the future of the show. Young says,  “We’re going to do our fourth season — it’s going to be our fourth and final.”

There is no word on when that season will air. But all episodes of this upcoming season are scheduled to start streaming on Friday, August 12.
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Timothy Rawles