"I remember I just deflated a little bit because I was so sad for him," Lewison tells Metacritic. "He's waiting for his dad who doesn't come home, and there's this really wide shot showing how large Ben's house is and how small he looks in there."
But that was merely the beginning. After three seasons, the annoyingly ambitious Sherman Oaks teenager that loves to push Devi Vishwakumar's (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) buttons is still, for the most part, pushing those buttons. But a surprisingly vulnerable character has emerged between clever jabs, making Ben not just a foil, but also a friend. And between the two a romance has been percolating since the first season, with a shocking scene at the end of Season 3 leaving viewers wondering if Bevi might be the endgame for series creators Lang Fisher and Mindy Kaling.
Having just finished the series' fourth and final season Lewison knows where it all goes, but won't spill any secrets. Instead, here, he speaks to Metacritic about the third season cliffhanger, the evolution of Ben Gross, and why he thinks Ben and Devi belong together.
How did you feel about that final scene in Season 3?
When I read the script, I just gasped. I immediately went and texted Maitreyi and I was like, "Oh my God, are you seeing this?" She's a bit slower of a reader than I am because she likes to really analyze every scene and I fly through it. We both were really excited because, for me, looking back at their journey from Season 1, they've come so far. To be able to go from Ben hurling insults at Devi, and Devi talking about the fact that Ben can't grow beard, to where we might be ending those insults, is crazy.
What have you personally loved most about the evolution of Ben Gross?
I feel like he's such a multidimensional character. I give so much credit to Mindy and Lang and the rest of the writing team for creating such a complex person. There's so much underneath the surface of Ben, where even on the surface, there's so much to explore. He's hurling insults at people and he's loud and brash and striving for perfection. He's a lot. But you peel back some of the layers of that and you're seeing that he really is such a vulnerable kid who's desiring love, affection and attention. He has such a strong desire to feel validated. It's fascinating and intriguing to get to explore that as an actor.
How did those solo episodes open him up as a character for you?
You get a glimpse into who Ben really is. The writers found a way to capture Ben's entire essence and his life. The tone of those episodes help you understand the loneliness and the pressure that Ben puts on himself. Especially in Episode 306, seeing Ben's desire for friendship and love that is driving some of the pressures and the attitude that Ben brings to certain situations. You can't help but root for Ben, even though he can be really frustrating and annoying, and a bit of an asshole, even. You watch those episodes and you're like, "Man, I just really want him to relax." You go on such a journey within those 24 minutes. He grows so much within that span of time. It's really special and I felt really lucky to have two of them.
The scenes in your episode between Ben and Paxton (Darren Barnet) were so unexpected. What do you think the scenes say about the two of them?
I appreciated what it does in terms of opening up, as a man. I played football my entire life and that kind of toxic masculinity is definitely prevalent, where you're told not to open up and just deal with your problems. Even now, as a 21-year-old, I'm still trying to figure out when I can open up to people and try to be vulnerable. And to see both Ben and Paxton be vulnerable in that moment was so special because they both have different problems. On the surface, Paxton's so good-looking and so popular. He must really have everything together — but you realize he's struggling. He doesn't know what his identity is. And Ben has so much pressure on himself that he hasn't had time to poop for 16 days. They both are going through these very complex and interesting scenarios. When they open up to each other, they can deal with these problems. I really hope that it inspires young men to have some of those difficult conversations with their friends and realize that none of them are alone in this and that they have friends that they can rely on. You see that Ben and Paxton, they want to help each other. Maybe it's a little awkward at first and they're not sure how to talk to each other, but once they get into it and you see the aftermath of it, it's overwhelmingly positive.
There is also an interesting evolution between Ben and his dad this season, considering his absentee father has been the driving force of Ben's ambition this entire time.
I was a psychology major at USC and when you grow up with an absentee father, there's definitely a bit of an insecure attachment there and the desire to find affection. For Ben to be able to hear that his father is proud of him after desiring that for 17, 18 years, it really means a lot. You see Ben really let out this breath, as if this massive weight is lifted off his shoulders. Ben's dad, who's played by Michael Badalucco, opens up about how his father wasn't great, and that's probably something that they've never talked about. It's so relatable in terms of real life, because a lot of families and a lot of fathers struggle to open up. Maybe there are cultural barriers, or maybe they just aren't used to showing emotion, or their fathers didn't, and it's very hard for them. You're seeing so many characters of all different ages and backgrounds and they all are opening up to each other. It's so special to be able to show that on TV, because I don't think that we see that a lot.
Talk us through Ben's priorities at the beginning of the season, because he starts out in a very different place than where he ends up.
There's several priorities. There's romantic priorities, and he's trying to figure those out and navigate his feelings for Aneesa (Megan Suri) — and how to balance that with his longing feelings towards Devi. On the flip side, you have academic pressures that Ben is trying to navigate, where he's trying to put college before eating. He wants to be the best at everything that he does. I can relate to that, but like Ben, I've started on this journey of realizing that perfection is impossible. You can strive towards greatness, but the only thing that you can do is try your best. And self-care and mental health is so important. I'm glad that our show touches upon that and really brings it up in a passionate and delicate way. I'm proud of Ben for going to art class — looking at the pear and feeling these different things that are opening him up. He's showing more of himself and his kindness and allowing people to know the real him.
Where do Ben and Devi stand now?
With that ending, we are definitely in for quite a treat. I'd love to tell you that I have no idea what's going to happen, but I know everything that's going to happen. So, I can't really give you any predictions. What I can say is, I'm very excited to see the fan reactions, especially for that last scene, because we have that presentation of the "boink" card, but we have no idea if they did or didn't.
Why do you think they're drawn to each other?
I like to think of certain relationships as trying to find the other piece of your puzzle. They have such jagged edges that when you try to jam it into other puzzle pieces it's not quite the right fit. But Ben and Devi, they fit. They make each other crazy, but at the core there is such a foundation of care and genuine love. They push each other to be better. They push each other to be uncomfortable and they challenge each other. When you're thinking about a significant other, you need someone that you're crazy about. One of my favorite quotes from film is, "Your crazy matches my crazy," in Silver Linings Playbook, and sometimes we draw a little bit on that. Both Ben and Devi are a little nutty and they just complement each other. It works. But they both have such a journey of self-love and commitment [ahead] to have a proper solidified strong and healthy relationship.
We heard that the romance between Devi and Ben was written as a result of your chemistry with Maitreyi. Did you get a sense that the plot line grew because of how well you two work on screen?
Yeah. It was really interesting. I think that they had that storyline as a possibility, but it was dependent on how Maitreyi and I were able to produce those sparks. As we started going along, it was just so easy to work with her because she's such a giving actress and so natural. We just are very similar people. Her and I both have similar senses of humor and it's very easy for us to get along. It was easy to do a lot of those scenes because there is such a comfortability there. And it was really cool to be able to have those characters go on that journey. Now it's created something so special with the love triangle. Fans are so passionately Team Ben, or Team Paxton. It's cool to be a part of something like that.
Get to know Jaren Lewison:
The actor may be best known for his starring role as Ben Gross, but Lewison has also made an appearance in Barney & Friends, among other Barney adventures, the comedy Tag (56) starring Jeremy Renner, the Lone Star (73) pilot, and the Jason Reitman drama Men, Women and Children (38).