August 12, 2022 marks the season 3 premiere of Mindy Kaling‘s teen-centric, Gen Z-leaning coming-of-age comedy Never Have I Ever starring Maitreyi Ramakrishnan as Devi, a gal who is just navigating the hormonal terrain of high school. August 11, 2022 marked the first in-person premiere (there was only one special season 2 screening event hosted by Gold House last year) of the popular series which everyone from any age demographic devours with a quickness as soon as it drops on Netflix — and deservedly so. Kaling created a teen comedy that centers on South Asian, her family but doesn’t make her culture the centerpiece of the entire series. Whether you watch the show or not, it’s a groundbreaking feat for television more than we realize.
Last night, I attended the season 3 premiere — and for the record, there are only a few events in Westwood where I will get off my happy meal ass and attend. (For those of you not in the greater L.A. area, the “west side” of Los Angeles is quite a journey for many who live here… especially during rush hour traffic). I admit, I am not totally caught up with Never Have I Ever, but I figured out what was going on within minutes of the one of two episodes they showed us from season 3.
In general, the premiere was like any Hollywood premiere: plenty of people, lots of security, lots of traffic, lots of Netflix staff and publicists running around with the weight of a premiere on their shoulders and a hankering for a stiff drink after so they could alleviate said stress. As with all Hollywood premieres, there were plenty of familiar faces on the red carpet, inside and, of course, at the afterparty. Obviously, the majority of the gorgeous cast was there to celebrate this first in-person premiere: Ramakrishnan was joined by Darren Barnet, Megan Suri, Richa Moorjani, Lee Rodriguez, Ramona Young, Poorna Jagannathan, Jaren Lewison, Ranjita Chakravarty — and even John McEnroe showed up! In addition, important peeps like co-creator Lang Fisher as well as Netflix bosses Ted Sarandos and Bela Bajaria joined Kaling and the cast.
South Asian Hollywood definitely showed up with folks like Lilly Singh, Definition Please‘s Sujata Day and Ritesh Rajan, Umbrella Academy‘s Ritu Arya; Big Sky‘s Janina Gavankar and Vinny Chhibber; I Love That For You‘s Punam Patel, poet Rupi Kaur; among many others. 13 Reasons Why and Sex Lives of College Girls (another Kaling project) actor Timothy Granaderos was also present and even Shang Chi himself Simu Liu made an appearance with actress Jade Bender at the after party.
It was quite an event.
One interesting thing is that Netflix extended premiere invites to a generous group of fans. I don’t think I have been to a premiere where fans were folded into the audience that is normally filled with industry folks — and it was quite a spectacle.
Stan culture and fandom, as of late, is a whole different ilk than it was 10 years ago. Hell, it’s different from five years ago. In fact, we see from the worlds of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the Star Wars universe that fans always aren’t that great. We’ve seen that they could drive certain actors to leave social media and write an op-ed to put them in their place (remember when Kelly Marie Tran had to do that?). More recently, we saw Obi-Wan Kenobi star Moses Ingram get maligned by Star Wars fans so much that Obi-Wan himself, Ewan McGregor had to step in. Star Wars alum John Boyega also had a couple of things to say about toxic, racist fandom.
When fans get so invested in a film, music group, TV series, Beyoncé or anything else, they immediately take ownership of it. They guard it with their lives. However, there comes a breaking point where they become an abusive protector of the property. It’s exclusively theirs and if anyone messes with how they want it, they will immediately attack without hesitation… and most of the time they are racist, misogynistic middle-aged trolls tweeting from the catacombs of a Cheeto-infested cave of their mother’s home.
Never Have I Ever fans are the exact opposite of this.
Full disclosure: When it comes to Hollywood work events, I avoid huge events where I know fans will be just because my old-ass ears can’t handle the screams and I am just jaded. Also, I just want to make room for fans who will get something more out of it than I will. It’s just common courtesy.
As I walked up to the Regency Village Theater I immediately saw and heard that distinct roar from a red carpet crowd as the series’ stars took the red carpet. I did a little socializing before I took my seat with a bag of popcorn because my unhealthy ass hadn’t eaten all day.
One by one, cast members from the show arrived and took their seats. As I sat there and observed the crowd with an anthropologist eye, I was impressed with the restraint and respect of the fans when it came to the talent that were coming in. Yes, they screamed more often than I would have liked, but they weren’t toxic. They weren’t racist. They weren’t attacking the talent as the came in — they were very human about it. It was relieving… and it made me think of how I would have acted at that age if I absolutely worshipped a show like this.
The big test came when Paxton — aka Darren Barnet — came in. The heartthrob earned a high decibel cheer when he entered the theater. He, like many other cast members, were kind and took the time to take selfies with as many fans as their handler and/or publicist allowed. Everyone was respectful and it gave me hope that not all fandom is trash.
When security painstakingly finally got everyone in their seat, Kaling and Fisher introduced the episodes. As we watched, the crowd of fans cheered as every single core character from the series popped up on screen — and don’t get me started on what happened with Devi and Paxton made out. It was like a collective, respectful and wholesome audience orgasm of joy.
The season 3 premiere of Never Have I Ever and its huge loyal fanbase reminded me that fandom can be fun and it can help create change. At one moment during the screening, I started laughing uncontrollably at a very funny transition (I won’t spoil anything for you) which I thought no one else would notice. The girl next to me, who was clearly a fan, noticed and was laughing just as much. We turned to each other and started laughing harder.
That’s the kind of fan energy I’m talking about.
There was also one moment in the second episode — and this may be a SPOILER so proceed with caution — where there is a same-sex kiss between two characters. The crowd erupted with an ovation of love, support and excitement. I feel like if a same-sex kiss like that would have been on a major TV show or film 10-15 years ago it would have received giggles, ridicule, and raised eyebrows instead of uproarious applause. Hell, it probably wouldn’t have made it pass the producers or censors.
I appreciated the applause that same-sex kiss received. It may not be a big deal to those who live in metropolitan bubbles, but that kiss shows progress in representation. It gives me hope that maybe Hollywood is moving forward when it comes to inclusivity… but that is a big MAYBE.
Never Have I Ever may not be a gigantic blockbuster spectacle like Marvel, Star Wars, BTS or a massive pop culture phenomenon, but perhaps fans could take notes on how to be a respectful fan from the Never Have I Ever audience — even if they are too loud and enthusiastic for an old man like me.