In the last few years, you may have noticed that grief has become a theme in some of the most successful shows on streaming services and network television. Amazon’s Fleabag, Netflix’s After Life, Dead to Me, and the latest from the streaming giant, Never Have I Ever, are just a few of the recent shows that focus their storytelling around grief. We will look at several of these shows and how they tell these grief stories in this blog series this month. Do you have a show, movie, or book about grief that you would recommend? If so, share it with us.

Never Have I Ever . . . how a teenager grieves her dad

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At first glance, the Netflix hit show, Never Have I Ever, looks like another teen angst show, where the girl can’t get the guy she wants and works on elaborate schemes to make the romance happen, at least that is what the target market trailer would have you believe. The show is much more than a teen rom-com. So, we again learn you can’t judge a show by its trailer.

Never Have I Ever, created by Mindy Kaling, is about Devi, an Indian American teenage girl living in suburbia and her grief. Played brilliantly by Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Devi is a girl who you quickly learn is spinning after her father’s death at her high school orchestra concert. The public nature of her father’s death complicates Devi’s grief to the point that she refuses to deal with it. She shoves it so far down inside her that she suffers psychosomatic paralysis for several months. She can’t walk and had not even begun to deal with her grief until something motivates her to stand. Enter the boy she’s had a crush on, he happens to be just out of view in a store parking lot, and she has to stand from her wheelchair to see him. It’s a miracle, and Devi takes it as a sign that she’s cured of her paralysis and grief, ignoring the signs that she has yet to address the pain she has experienced.  

Though encouraged by her therapist, played by the awesome Niecy Nash, to journal and talk about her grief, she refuses. Rather than work through her pain, she focuses on “normal” teenage starter pack behaviors, pursues her romantic crush, argues with her mother, and works to alienate her friends and support systems. There is one great addition to this typical teen rom-com story, the narration of the story by tennis legend John McEnroe. Not sure how he got involved in the show, but his commentary adds to the storytelling.

They say that good stories are based in reality and will see some of Devi’s behaviors as age-appropriate for a teenage girl, who is suffering. You may even feel a pang of nostalgia for your mixed-up teen years. What is a pleasant surprise in this show’s story is how real the feelings she expresses in her grief as a girl whose Dad has died are. It shows all the sides of grief, sadness, anger, joy, tears, and unexplainable feelings. The show gives you a proper perspective on what grief can look like for a teenager, for someone who has suffered, and that you may even see something you have experienced in your grief.

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