A conversation with Never Have I Ever co-creator and showrunner, Lang Fisher.
In April 2020, the Netflix original high-school comedy series, Never Have I Ever, hit the small screen, appealing to people of all ages, races, and stages of their careers (famously, American rapper Common loved the show, which led to his role in Season 2!).
As a huge fan of Mindy Kaling and a lover of high-school comedies, I was already bound to love this show. However, what I found was more than just a comedy; Never Have I Ever is a connection between myself and my boyfriend’s mother: a woman from a different generation, race, and continent; a woman who watches the show, too.
At Austin Film Festival 2022, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Never Have I Ever co-creator and showrunner, the iconic Lang Fisher, who developed the series with Mindy Kaling. During our meeting, Lang spoke about the duo’s creative development process, giving me (and now, you!) a masterclass in character development.
“[Our development process] is just kind of like - stream of consciousness, like spitballing,” Lang says. “Some of it is just like, ‘what if Fabiola had a robot that she could talk to?’ And there's some things that have never even aired on the show.”
Lang explains that, during development, countless ideas were tossed out to make room for countless more! As someone who tends to get bogged down with rules, perfection, and expectations, this soothed my brain to hear Lang describe their "professional" development process as casual and fun. Next, they wrote their pilot, got the greenlight from Netflix, and started the process of hiring their room.
“We hired a few writers in their mid-20s that are just like a little more in touch with TikTok culture, whereas I'm just watching the Great British Baking Show and don't know anything,” Lang says of her room.
After the pages were done and the actors were cast, the characters began to change a bit, too! With an open approach to character creation and willingness to explore, Lang allowed some characters (like Eric Perkins - Devi’s annoying classmate) transform from cameos to larger roles, impressed with the actor’s humor on the show.
“[Eric] was in one scene in the orchestra where he thought that the vents smelled like crap, and that actor just, like, really made us laugh,” Lang says. “So every now and then, he comes back!”
This was also the case for Trent, Paxton’s dumb BFF, who amused the writers so much in Season One that he got his own love story in Season Three, alongside Eleanor. Lang personally loves Trent, and she talked about him at length in her AFF panel, “On Writing: Never Have I Ever”.
“I could write in this character and this voice all day long,” Lang says of "Trent".
As for the character she most connects with, Lang hesitated to choose just one. As a drama nerd in high school, she relates to Eleanor Wong, but she also has strong connections to Devi Vishwakumar. Like Devi, Lang admits to having a bit of a high-school temper, and they both share deep experiences with grief.
“In many ways it feels cathartic to write about grief. It actually feels like healing to be able to write that stuff, I think,” Lang says. “I don't know. It is nice to give a character that kind of depth.”
The characters in Never Have I Ever each are deep in their own ways - with Fabiola struggling to come out, Eleanor’s mom abandoning her, Devi losing her dad, and Nalini losing her husband. However, the show is still a comedy! So - of course, I had to ask about tone.
“I don't think I can write something that's dead serious,” Lang says. “I could never just write like a Law and Order; there has to be some comedic element, whether it's like hard comedy that's just like super joke heavy and broad, or more of a dark comedy.”
Lang also spoke on the ~sexy~ premise of Never Have I Ever’s pilot: Devi wants to get laid by the hottest guy in school, Paxton Hall Yoshida. However, in contrast to Euphoria, Outer Banks, or even Mindy's Sex Lives of College Girls (whose characters’ sexy lives make me look like a total virgin loser), Never Have I ever is very tame!
“I think that Mindy and I both kind of realized that we are not Euphoria-writing people,” Lang says. “We're just not dark and edgy, and that's not how we were as teenagers either.”
Instead, they chose to be authentic, bouncing off of their own experiences and feelings - never making something up just to appeal to the sex-crazed masses. Using their combined experiences, gut feelings, and humor, Lang and Mindy created something character-driven, honest, and vulnerable.
“I think the show is good because we balance each other out and the things that we like aren't exactly the same. And so sometimes the marriage of those things are what makes the show great,” Lang says.
Lang Fisher’s Never Have I Ever taught me how to be a better, freer, more creative writer - and for that I am grateful. But even more:
Never Have I Ever connected me to my future mother-in-law (Vinit and I've talked about it, it’s not weird to say) on a level I could never have anticipated: Never Have I Ever made us like friends! I encourage other writers to watch the show (and read along!) because it has so much to offer, regardless of your age, place, or ethnicity.
"That's always exciting because it makes me feel like the show has something for everyone," Lang says.
Thank you so much to Lang for your brilliant writing, and thank you for taking the time to meet with me (thank you Sarah for scheduling)! Looking forward to Season Four, and the potential for Devi and Ben! (I'm a Devi and Ben stan forever).