She asks for normalcy because the previous year had been anything but: in the middle of a music recital (Devi plays the harp), her father Mohan dies of a heart attack. A week later, Devi’s legs become paralyzed and she is confined to a wheelchair. However, Devi is magically healed at the sight of the hottest boy in school, half-Japanese Paxton Hall-Yoshida (Darren Barnet).
The rest of the cast is just as diverse: Devi’s two best friends are Eleanor Wong (Ramona Young), the exuberant president of the drama club, and Fabiola Torres (Lee Rodriguez), the tomboyish captain of the school’s robotics team. The first of only two prominent white guys in the series is Ben Gross (Jaren Lewison), Devi’s academic nemesis. Both Ben and Devi are academic overachievers, fighting to top each other in each and every way, so much so that they split all of the school’s club between them in a truce that would keep them from pulling each other’s hair out. The other white dude is the ‘80s tennis star John McEnroe, who for some reason (it’s explained later) is the show’s narrator.
In true high school flick fashion, the three girls set out to become cooler by getting themselves boyfriends. But this mission flies off the rails just as soon as the plan is set in motion: Eleanor ends up dating one of the drama club’s tech guys (controversial, apparently), Fabiola realizes that maybe boys aren’t her thing, and Devi tries to hit on the flamboyant token-gay-guy-who-hasn’t-come-out-yet, which leads her to just f*ck it and shoot her shot with Paxton by boldly asking him to sleep with her.
Antics aside, the show makes a great effort to flesh out its ensemble cast, focusing instead on the characters’ backgrounds rather than whether or not they score some dick. Fabiola deals with coming out to her family, Eleanor grapples with her mom leaving her to become a cruise liner actress (only to find her waiting tables close to home), and Devi, of course, struggles with her Indian heritage and her father’s death. On the other hand, Ben has trouble getting his parents to pay more attention to him, and Paxton is secretive about his sister who has Down syndrome, but only because he doesn’t want her to get hurt.
These are struggles that the actors can relate to as well. When I asked them over the phone about which character they related to the most, it became obvious that the show’s casting was pretty spot on. “I can hands-down easily relate to Devi the most,” says Maitereyi. “She feels too Indian around people that aren’t, and not Indian enough when around people that look like her.” This was something Maitereyi experienced for herself in high school, growing up Tamil-Canadian. She adds, “Now I’m in a place where I’m comfortable with my identity, but back then, that was really complicated for me to figure out.”
While Darren was able to relate to Paxton from the get-go, he took the role as an opportunity to learn more about people with disabilities. “Although I’ve had friends with Down syndrome, I’ve never directly been around someone with Down syndrome day after day,” he shares. He talked to a friend whose younger brother had Down syndrome, and asked her what growing up with that dynamic was like. Darren adds, “She said, ‘I’m gonna be honest: you always understand that there is a disability, but they’re also your sibling; you get mad at your siblings and that’s just how things go,’ so I kind of took that in, which is something I never thought (if it weren’t for Paxton).”