Mixed Asian Media: JoySauce is proud to present something very special—a partnership with the ultra talented team over at Mixed Asian Media. In JoySauce’s mission to cover stories from the Asian American and Pacific Islander diaspora, we’ve always considered it incredibly important to include mixed AA+PI perspectives. Since their team already has that piece on lock, we’re delighted they were willing to join forces to help us share even more fresh, funny, interesting, irreverent stories each week. Take it away, MAM!
When Mindy Kaling found out about Darren Barnet’s Japanese heritage, she asked if he’d be comfortable with the writers changing his character’s name from Paxton Hall to Paxton Hall-Yoshida. And thus, an icon was born.
In a particularly touching episode last season, Paxton, struggling to find something from his family’s history to share for an extra credit history assignment, stumbles upon a photograph of his grandfather as a little boy, interned at Camp Manzanar during World War II. Paxton asks his father why he never knew about this. His father replies, “Dad never really wanted to talk about it growing up. Whenever we asked he just shut down. I guess I learned not to talk about it too.”
Paxton, believing inherently in the importance of talking about this experience, gets his grandpa to open up. He even brings his ojichan to history class to share his experiences. As Ojichan stands in front of the class, he tells everyone that seeing Paxton step out of his comfort zone made him want to do so too. “I need to tell my story, so no one ever forgets.” This scene leaves me in tears every time.
With season three of Never Have I Ever now on Netflix, we chatted with Barnet about his hopes and dreams for Paxton’s future, and what this season is all about.
Hey Darren! Thanks for talking with us today.
Yeah, thanks for having me.
We are big fans of yours over here at MAM (*cough* Team Paxton *cough*).
In season two, episode nine, Paxton went above and beyond for his extra credit history assignment. The episode inspired a lot of Japanese Americans to also research and share their own family stories. What was the conversation like surrounding the creation of that episode?
They had Erica Oyama writing it. She’s part Japanese as well, and I think she did her own research. I think they did ask me about internment camps, which my grandmother actually was not in. But I remember researching a lot of that history in high school. It's something I learned about previously, but I think I even learned a lot more during that episode, which was really rewarding.
I've never met either of my grandfathers, so it was pretty cool to like, have a grandfather for a minute.
That's so sweet. Could you summarize season three of Never Have I Ever for us in three words?
Spicy. Controversial. And…I’ll give it witty.
Okay, spicy, controversial, and witty. That's excellent. I’ve heard that the cast will often improv during scenes, especially with those that feature you and Benjamin Norris who plays Trent. Were there any particularly wacky or memorable improvised moments this season?
It's funny because you're gonna see actually more interaction between Eric, played by Jack Seavor, and I, and he's hilarious. Ben's in some of the scenes too. So yeah, there are definitely moments that me, Jack, and Ben have together that are absolutely hysterical. We were working with Kabir Akhtar, who is an amazing director, and he's one of those directors that really lets you go and kind of do your thing, so it was a lot of fun.
Season two concluded with Paxton successfully bringing up his grades. No small thanks to Devi's tutoring skills. Now that there's some hope for his college career sans swimming scholarship, what is your dream future for Paxton?
Honestly, I think it's just to be really happy.
But jokingly, I've always said I feel like Paxton is one of those people that could fall into some multi-level marketing scheme. But be the guy that actually kills it! Like the 1% that gets rich off of it.
He would get to the top level of the pyramid.
Yeah, I could totally see him doing that. But I can't say that is his future. He’s always rode a lot, I think, on his looks and his talent, and it’s not something he can really do as much anymore. So he needs to work on finding happiness and balancing himself through that transition.
That's awesome. I was gonna ask you what lesson you think Paxton needs to learn this season, but I think you just answered it—balance and finding himself.
So. Real question. I do have to ask you, at this current moment in your personal life, are you Team Paxton, Team Ben, Team Hot New Kid Des, or Team “Devi Stays Single for a While and Focuses on Herself?”
This question always seems like a trap.
It is a trap. You're right.
I'm gonna go with team Devi, but I'll split it 50/50 with Paxton and Ben, because Paxton challenges Devi in certain ways, but they’re also complete opposites, which sometimes I guess do attract. And he’s also really been there for her. But then you have Ben on the other hand, and they drive each other absolutely crazy because they are the exact same. I think they could be really happy and it might be more of a stimulating relationship, but I also think they drive each other nuts because they always be trying to one up each other.
That's absolutely true. Okay, this is my last question for you. What do you hope that young viewers, especially, high school kids, will take away from this season?
I really hope what's taken away is finding balance and comfort within your own skin and realizing that you cannot please everyone. The more you try to do that, the more you will let yourself down. It starts with you. We live in this age of social media where everything is easily comparable, and you're always feeling “less than” because you're seeing the best moments of everyone's life. So just realize and take away all that (excuse my French) mostly bullshit. Be careful. Compare yourself to who you were yesterday. Don't compare yourself to Kylie Jenner on Instagram.
I will also personally try to take that advice. Thanks, Darren!
Thank you, too.
This story was originally published on Mixed Asian Media in August 2022.
Published on October 17, 2022
Words by Erica Ito
Born and raised on the east side of O’ahu, Erica learned about improv comedy in seventh grade, and has been a public menace ever since. She holds a BFA in musical theater from the University of Michigan and can be found yelling about coming-of-age love stories, pop culture, and mythology with her genius co-host/best friend on their podcast Seaweed Brain. Check her out @SeaweedBrainPodcast and www.ericaito.com.