When I Describe the Plot of Mindy Kaling’s Critically Acclaimed Teen Comedy-Drama I have never for newcomers, it usually looks like the Explaining Girl meme. “It’s about a 16-year-old boy whose father dies…” I begin.
“Didn’t you say it was a comedy?” they always ask. “This!” I yell, then continue, “Anyway, her father has a heart attack right in front of her during a school concert…” as I watch the color drain from her face. It is true that this introduction could hurt the hilarious I have never It’s been through its three stellar seasons, but I don’t regret wanting to lead with its emotional genesis.
Seen in a flashback during the pilot episode, the death of main character Devi Vishwakumar’s (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) father, Mohan (Sendhil Ramamurthy), is the show’s dramatic catalyst. The dueling journey that follows is compelling, not just because it beautifully shore up Devi’s story arc, but on a more personal note, because I lost my own father shortly after my 17th birthday and I’m having a hard time understanding him.
Unlike Devi, my father’s passing was not unexpected or sudden, he lived with lung cancer for a couple of years before it happened, but it changed my teenage self in a way I’ve never seen reflected on a television. character so far.
My obsession with American teen dramas began in the early 2000s and I looked up Dawson’s Creek‘s Joey Potter (Katie Holmes), whose mother died off-screen when she was a little girl. Although the event is talked about throughout the series, its main purpose is to explain the sharp tongue and closed tendencies of Joey, who honestly seemed a bit like a cop to me, a stressed emo who wanted to get to the bottom of some big feelings with his fictional friend.
buffy the vampire slayer‘s Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) loses her mother later in the show’s run, but Buffy is 20 years old and at a different stage of her life by then, facing challenges I don’t have a frame of reference for. , like being pushed into a maternal role and necessary to run a household. In the years since then, I can only point to the sweeping family melodrama. We are like getting closer I saw snapshots of my past particularly in sullen and lost 17-year-old Kate Pearson (Hannah Zeile) and her immediate experience after the death of her father, Jack (Milo Ventimiglia). But because the narrative timeline jumps around so much in We arenever enough screen space was devoted to the minutiae of the particular time period that would have been interesting to watch.
I have never doesn’t have that problem. One of the things the series does so brilliantly is explore how truly inconvenient it is to have a parent die during the most turbulent years of your young life. You already feel like you exist under a microscope, trying to navigate relationships, body image, friendship, and school simultaneously, still at least 10 years from your fully developed brain. On top of all that, the last thing you want is to be exposed as “the sad girl whose father died,” as Devi puts it so succinctly.
So, just like our girl Devi, I launched into a glamorous life of homework, boozy house parties, and infuriating boys as a way to prove that all was well. Everything was normal; I just live with one person now, instead of two.
“You’re so traumatized that you’ve done your whole life with this guy,” Devi’s therapist tells her as she’s once again obsessed with her crush, cute classmate and cool resident Paxton Hall-Yoshida (Darren Barnet). Later, in a poignant full-circle moment during the season three finale, Devi thanks Paxton for helping her get through the death of her father. Making Paxton her boyfriend was the unattainable dream that nonetheless gave Devi a goal: a coping mechanism casually disguised as standard teenage behavior. Sometimes a distraction in the face of serious distress can be a powerful tool.
But a beautiful face can only do so much. I too had a long experience as a teenager making my entire modus operandi ‘angry’, as we see happen with Devi. When you experience something as devastating as losing a parent, the world no longer makes sense and the anger becomes insidious. Combine that anger with unrelenting hormones and the angles of your personality could change. Devi lies to her friends and then has the audacity to feel persecuted when they accuse her of it. “My dad dies and all of a sudden my friends are bitches?” she asks unfairly. Secretly, she gets her nose pierced just because a classmate of hers calls her a chicken. She is constantly at odds with her mother, Nalini (Poorna Jagannathan), whom she considers too strict.
There’s a brutal mother-daughter moment at the end of the first season when Nalini admits that without Mohan around to help her, she’s really struggling to raise Devi. After all, Nalini is also in the thick of pain and trauma. Devi, feeling rejected and spiraling, retaliates and says that she wishes her mother had died that fateful night. The scene is so raw that it takes my breath away and, during my initial viewing, it caused an unpleasant feeling of déjà vu. Memories that I was sure had been stored long ago, in uncharted corners of my mind, began to imprint themselves on my television screen. As if no time had passed, I was back in my childhood home, rolling four hours after curfew with mud on her boots, my mother on the stairs in her pajamas looking on in horror and terror, minutes from calling police. The two of us got into an explosive argument about why I can’t seem to feel happy about getting into all the colleges I’ve applied to, causing him to threaten to disappear for the first time. Fight or flight mode: activated. First sign of dissociation: tick. And, twist, I dropped out of college due to PTSD anyway.
It has been a confrontation, as a woman who is now in her thirties, to see I have never and I admit that my mom and I (who are best friends now) were naturally in free fall, and instead of holding on, I snapped at reality, and at it, just to keep my head above water. But that is being young and that is grieving. It’s nonlinear, it’s messy, and it brings out the best and the worst in you: resiliency, tear-stained hand in hand with thoughtlessness.
“It doesn’t magically go away, because that’s not realistic,” Ramakrishnan said of the pain in a 2021 interview with USA Today. The evolution of Devi and Nalini’s relationship over the course of three seasons has been cathartic and joyous to watch, the headstrong pair finally developing a kinship because they know Mohan would want them to be a team.
The Patriarch Viswakumar looms large throughout the series, appearing in flashbacks or dream sequences frequently. He has proven to be a father model Y husband, a guy who cared deeply about his family, a bit of a prankster, and the consummate peacemaker between wife and daughter. Devi’s most prized artifact is an old voicemail that Mohan left for her while he was driving to pick her up at a mall. She reproduces the message in times of crisis like a balm. I called my father’s cell phone once, months after his death, fully aware that the Motorola brick I hated was sitting in a drawer in his house, turned off and gathering dust alongside his Stephen King novels. But I remember the fleeting feeling of still being able to reach it, and that was enough. I have mythologized my father over the years, as I usually do, not having known him as an adult. But I know this to be true: he, like Mohan, was a good man and he wanted nothing more than my happiness.
As Kaling, whose mother died in 2012, recently said marie claire“Losing my mom and then wanting to talk about it in a way that’s not as sad as the experience of going through it, but being able to say, ‘If you went through something like this, you could watch this.’ [show] and feel seen,’ I think that was the goal.” I’m so thankful that I have never holds a mirror up to anyone who has experienced loss early in life and is seeking a nuanced, compassionate and deeply realistic view of it.