Spoilers for the first season of Netflix’s Never Have I Ever can be found throughout this piece. Read on at your own risk if you haven’t binged the series yet.
Early on in the very first episode of Never Have I Ever, we learn a few things. First, our heroine Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) was only recently confined to a wheelchair after her father died during a school event. Her legs briefly but inexplicably stopped working for a short time afterward. Being in a wheelchair made Devi rather unpopular and that doesn't change once she's able to walk again. She's still navigating high school as an awkward teenager, only she has one thing going for her most other teens don't have: Her life is narrated by tennis veteran John McEnroe.
Of course, Devi isn't privy to his narrations, but they do help the audience to see Devi's temper and connect how she is feeling with how some of her friends are feeling in any given moment. It's a move that works for Never Have I Ever, but why John McEnroe? And how did he get involved?
They realize that I’m not just that person that they saw screaming at the umpire. It worked well enough in [Mindy’s] mind that she wanted to use me.
Plus, Mindy Kaling’s new Netflix series uses John McEnroe’s famous hotheaded behavior as a joke at various points, something he seemingly takes in stride. For example, at one point John McEnroe ties in to an arranged marriage plotline in the show by noting, ‘She put on a happy face, like I did at the trophy ceremony when I lost the French Open to Ivan Lendl in 1984.’
John McEnroe is also a good person to have narrating when Devi has her own anger issues in Never Have I Ever. In one pivotal scene, Devi throws a book through a window and John McEnroe notes “that’s how we hot heads boil over.” With his matter-of-fact way of speaking, he’s a great fit for Never Have I Ever, but his connection to the series runs even deeper than the personality traits he shares with the main character in the Netflix series.
One thing that's common for a lot of Indian parents is a love of tennis. It's like an English Anglophile kind of thing. When we decided that the character of Devi would have a temper, the McEnroe thing just kept coming back: you know, someone who's high-achieving but is undermined by their own temper. He has really high standards for himself and everyone around him. We kept talking about him and were like, 'Wait, should he be doing the narration?' Devi's dad loved tennis, and it timed out that he would have grown up watching McEnroe.
It all pays off in the Season 1 finale of Never Have I Ever, which John McEnroe actually shows up in. The narrator plays himself during a scene in which Devi bumps into him. He ends up helping her to get her family’s attention before they ultimately scatter her dad’s ashes at the beach. It's a quick but integral portion of Season 1 and a nice nod to the narration work that McEnroe agreed to do for the show.
Having John McEnroe around is unusual, but other than the high school setting, there's nothing particularly usual about Never Have I Ever. You can catch all ten of the Season 1 episodes currently available on Netflix streaming. Of course, we'll keep you posted if the subscription streaming service signs on for another round.