While scrolling through viewing choices on Netflix for your next quarantine binge, maybe you glanced at Never Have I Ever and decided it wasn’t for you. A comedy about an Indian-American teenager trying to become popular, get a boyfriend (preferably her school’s hottest jock), and lose her virginity during her sophomore year of high school after the death of her father might not appeal to everyone.
Would your opinion change if you knew that famously volatile tennis legend (and ESPN analyst) John McEnroe narrates the story? Yes, really.
As Matthew Futterman explains in the New York Times, series creator Mindy Kaling (The Office, The Mindy Project) approached McEnroe with the idea during the 2019 Vanity Fair Oscars party and followed up with him later to show she was serious.
Kaling and executive producer Lang Fisher wanted the inner voice of 15-year-old Devi Vishwakumar (played by Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) to be hot-tempered, maybe someone like John McEnroe. So why not get the actual McEnroe to be that narrator?
As Kaling explained to USA Today, the idea for using McEnroe came from her father’s love of tennis, something common among many Indian parents.
“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.”
Kaling thinks McEnroe’s kids were fans of The Office and may have vouched for her because of that.
Much like younger sports fans have seen Michael Jordan as a basketball player for the first time while watching The Last Dance, McEnroe is amused by the thought that viewers of a certain age might not have any idea that he was one of the top tennis stars of the 1980s and are learning about him now.
“I had my first inkling of that reception when I did ‘Mr. Deeds’ with Adam Sandler. After that movie came out [in 2002], I probably had 1,000 people come up to me and say, ‘It’s the guy from Deeds!’ and they had no idea I was a tennis player. I found that funny. And this is [almost] 20 years later. It’s like, ‘Who the hell is this old fart narrating this show?'”
But because of the COVID-19 quarantine, McEnroe, who also makes an on-screen cameo appearance in the series, hasn’t had much opportunity to be recognized by new generations of fans in public. As more viewers binge Never Have I Ever while staying at home during the coronavirus pandemic, maybe that will change once businesses begin to open up again and people attempt to resume some sense of normalcy.
All 10 episodes of Never Have I Ever are now available on Netflix.