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Heroine Withdrawal 

High Desert's nourishing hot mess, Never Have I Ever's sweet center

click to enlarge Thoughts and prayers to all the supposed Christians losing their minds over rainbows in Target.

Never Have I Ever

Thoughts and prayers to all the supposed Christians losing their minds over rainbows in Target.

HIGH DESERT. Maybe we don't need another detective series. Maybe every red herring has been fileted by now and it's time to call it a day. I have watched a lot of TV. It has all been done. Around the time a psychic detective solved a murder by seeing through the eyes of a haunted doll, I began wondering: Has the genre peaked? Should I find a different obsession? Am I going try to get into sci-fi now? Maybe. But I kept watching that psychic detective show because it starred Patricia Arquette. There's something mesmerizing about Arquette, with her creaky-sweet voice and diamond stare. Maybe it's just because I know she was once married to Nick Cage, but I've come to think of her presence as that of some underrated, take-no-shit deity, the kind that shows up on the worst day of your life with a playlist and a shovel. A heroine, in other words, for the times we're living through.

High Desert, which currently has six episodes streaming on Apple+, feels less like an Arquette vehicle than it does a world high on her potent, mischievous charm. Arquette plays Peggy, a one-time drug trafficker turned theme-park saloon girl turned detective (a career trajectory that happens in a dizzying first episode). Peggy is a hot mess with a heart, simultaneously grieving her recently deceased mother, trying to stay off opiates, reunite with her frustrated siblings and kick-start a new career by bullying an established local detective (Brad Garrett) into taking her on as a protégé. If that sounds like a lot, we haven't even gotten into her estrangement from her adult son, theatrical ambitions, encyclopedic knowledge of art history, her best friend's legal problems or her convict husband (Matt Dillon), from whom she just can't seem to get divorced. Yeah, it's a lot. But set against the surreal palette of Joshua Tree National Park, it all somehow works, like a small-screen psychedelic art festival suffused with Arquette's weird and anarchic joy. TVMA. APPLE+.

NEVER HAVE I EVER. If you are justifiably afraid of getting into a series that might lead to another possessed doll plot (unlikely but not completely off the table, I'm sure), you might consider catching up on the Netflix comedy-drama series Never Have I Ever before the fourth and final season airs June 8. Yes, it's a high school love triangle series that I suppose has an intended audience of not-adults, but have you seen TV intended for adults lately? It's all feuds and workplace microaggressions and psychic dolls. Give me the kid stuff, please!

Created by Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher, the series stars Maitreyi Ramakrishnan as Devi Vishwakumar, a 15-year-old Indian American girl who's hoping to recover socially from a disastrous freshman year by hooking up with the hottest guy in school, Paxton Hall-Yoshida (Darren Barnet). Along the way she's alternately supported and shunned by her best friends Fabiola (Lee Rodriguez) and Eleanor (Ramona Young), as well as ruthlessly mocked by her lifelong academic rival Ben Grossman (Jaren Lewison). I'll let you work out who the third side of that love triangle might be.

But what helps Never Have I Ever break free from the teen drama pack is its whip-smart writing, and inspired use of third-person narration. Devi, a hot-head super achiever, has tennis legend John McEnroe delivering her inner monologues. The result is often hilarious, with our heroine's exterior betraying only a lip quiver or wide eyes as McEnroe screams her internal rage at the viewer, an extremely relatable experience for anyone who has ever been a teenage girl. Over the course of the series Devi learns to both own and safely express her anger as she comes to terms with her grief over the death of her father and her troubled relationship with her mother, grow alongside her friends and juggle would-be romantic partners. The series, which is loosely based on Kaling's own childhood, has a diverse ensemble cast with an ambitious amount of subplots and character development. In different hands this might feel jumbled or rushed, but Never Have I Ever travels smoothly at the pace of a teenage day, where five crises before breakfast is absolutely to be expected. TV14. 30M. NETFLIX.

Linda Stansberry (she/her) is a freelance writer and journalist who lives in Eureka.

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Fortuna Theatre is temporarily closed due to earthquake damage. For showtimes call: Broadway Cinema (707) 443-3456; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre (707) 822-3456.

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About The Author

Linda Stansberry

Linda Stansberry

Bio:
Linda Stansberry was a staff writer of the North Coast Journal from 2015 to 2018. She is a frequent contributor the the Journal and our other publications.

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