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Never Have I Ever’s college acceptances made way for real (good) drama

Finally — a show that gets this right

Devi looks excitedly at something on her phone, while sitting in bed. Image: Netflix
Petrana Radulovic is an entertainment reporter specializing in animation, fandom culture, theme parks, Disney, and young adult fantasy franchises.

If there is one thing Netflix’s Never Have I Ever has always done well, it’s balance the dramatic with the realistic. While overachiever Devi and her friends might get themselves into ridiculous situations, the world around them still functions very realistically, particularly in terms of school.

That might seem boring on paper, but by actually adhering to the way the real world works, Never Have I Ever becomes more relatable — and can actually dig into drama that few high school shows and movies get to. Nowhere is this truer than in this season’s college admissions arc, a plot point that so many coming-of-age stories have flubbed in the same exhausting ways.

[Ed. note: This post contains some slight spoilers for the last season of Never Have I Ever.]

Devi and her college advisor walk through the hallways of her high school. They are both dressed in smart suits. Devi holds a binder. Image: Netflix

The big thing that separates Never Have I Ever from a lot of other high school shows: Devi knows where she wants to go to college and she’s known where she wants to go to college since she was a little girl, and she is not about to let anyone persuade her that she’s better off following her friends or a boy.

One of the pitfalls of coming-of-age high school stories is that so very often, they fall into the same tired tropes when it comes to college admissions. Usually this means that the main character is torn between following their dreams or going to school with their sweetheart. More egregiously, this means that the main character waits until the last possible minute, because they’re so torn on their dreams and the possibilities for the future, and then they improbably get into a school they should’ve been planning to get into four years ago. (This one’s specifically a callout for the High School Musical 3 plot where Troy Bolton decides to go Berkeley on his graduation day.)

But that’s never a problem in Never Have I Ever, which smartly subverts the typical exhausting (and honestly just plain wrong to the actual process) tropes. For one, while robotics aficionado Fabiola is unsure of what college she wants to attend, it’s not because she’s magically gotten into all of them and now needs to make a decision before graduation. It happens very early on into the process, and she’s more concerned with finding a program that’s right for her ambitions. It’s also especially refreshing that these are ambitions she’s always had, not ones that popped up two scenes before a college admissions arc in order to add some struggle.

Eleanor, Fabiola, and Devi in their high school hallway, dressed up for a college fair. Image: Netflix

When the friendship drama does pop up, there’s a twist. Usually in these sorts of situations, two best friend characters will share dreams of going to the same school — only for one of them to find another calling, or not be able to afford it, or leave their friend behind for a love interest. In this case, however, the tension comes from them possibly applying to the same college. And while teen shows don’t need realism, Never Have I Ever’s fourth season feels better and grounded for it. After all, as the characters point out, the chances of a prestigious Ivy League taking two people from the same school are very low. Devi shouldn’t be upset at Fabiola for following a dream, but she certainly has cause for anxiety of her own.

And actually, what Never Have I Ever does the best is follow a remarkably realistic timeline for all the college admissions drama — which means that the big questions of who is applying where get settled halfway through the season. The showrunners understand that the college application process as it is in real life is already stressful enough. So why draw it out? Early decision dates, deferments, waitlists, and everything in between already provide enough tension — especially with people as dramatic and over-the-top as Devi and her friends. They bring enough drama wherever they go.

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