Lately, I’ve found myself spending a lot of time with the delightful Netflix series Never Have I Ever. Loosely inspired by creator Mindy Kaling’s life, the show follows a South Asian teen named Devi and her friends and romantic suitors as they make their way through high school in Sherman Oaks, California. There was one episode in the second season, though, that got me thinking about matters far beyond the show’s central themes of dealing with grief, growing into an emotionally accountable person, and learning how to be. It left me pondering, Whatever happened to trade school?
In this second-season episode, titled “… Opened a Textbook,” the high school’s head jock (and Devi’s lifelong crush), Paxton Hall-Yoshida, has been hit by a car and broken his arm. Sidelined from the swim team for the season, Paxton finds his path after high school—a scholarship to a prestigious four-year college—in sudden peril. He’s quickly given a reality check that, without sports or a family with money to pay his way into a private college, Paxton only has the kind of grades that might get him into a [gasp in horror] community college. The way Paxton sees it, this means his options for his future boil down to working in his parents’ store or making YouTube videos for profit with his best friend. Faced with such grim prospects, Paxton sets out to try to be a good student and raise his GPA, in order to get into college on his own merit.
Paxton is, as you may have guessed, not adept at studying—especially not when left to his own devices. He struggles to memorize historical facts and at one point is so distracted by a wobbly table, he decides to trim the legs in the family’s woodshed rather than run through his boring science flash cards. Paxton, inexplicably shirtless (warning: He’s inexplicably shirtless for a lot of this show), skillfully brandishes a table saw. He relishes the precision and care it takes to sand down his table legs until they are perfectly even. He then goes back to being miserable studying his flashcards.
It’s a tiny scene, but it got me wondering: Why? Why is Paxton Hall-Yoshida’s vision for his future limited to a contortion of himself and his interests, where the only two foreseeable options are getting into a four-year college or a dead-end future? And, especially, why is this the case when he has interests and skills outside of academic performance?