The Sex Lives of College Girls picks up just as our four favorite Essex College suitemates return from Thanksgiving break for another season of collegiate fun, heartbreak, and final exams — sometimes all within the span of 15 minutes.
In the first four episodes of The Sex Lives of College Girls that were provided to critics, we’re thrust back into action with our goal-oriented and determined freshwomen: Kimberly (Pauline Chalamet), Bela (Amrit Kaur), Whitney (Alyah Chanelle Scott), and Leighton (Reneé Rapp). This season, the women are dead set on conquering Essex in their own respective ways during their winter semester.
‘The Sex Lives of College Girls’ is a hilarious, sexy treat
As Kimberly grapples with the loss of her academic scholarship and weighs her money-making options, Whitney juggles the convoluted relationship with her casual hook-up turned something more and the beginnings of an identity crisis since the end of her turbulent soccer season. On the opposite side of the suite, roommates Leighton and Bela experience no shortage of a busy schedule as Belas all-female comedy magazine faces its first ever public launch and Leighton grapples with her identity as an openly queer socialite approaching her sorority’s rush week. It may seem like the first four episodes are jam-packed, but the pacing feels true to life for this college student!
The first season of TSLOCG, which was co-created by Mindy Kaling and Justin Noble, firmly established this foursome as interesting, fully fleshed-out characters. I absolutely must give all of the writers their flowers for keeping their evolving bond a big part of the A story instead of shuffling it off to the B or C story in favor of romances with some very average men. Dont get me wrong; their titular sex lives — from hook-ups and slow burns to a shirtless frat boy strip tease — are far from lacking in season 2, and thank goodness for that. But these romps take a backseat to the budding and arguably more interesting connections between these four girls with absolutely nothing in common other than a shared space.
As they all haphazardly navigate their way through classes, extracurriculars, medical procedures, and sex-related infections, they continue to have each other’s backs, lightening the load of what can be a very overwhelming transition from high school to independent adulthood. The Sex Lives of College Girls is intentional in the way it portrays lighthearted but realistic depictions of the diverse relationships between women. This is an intent worth appreciating considering the controversial and limiting representations of female identities throughout television history. (I love Sex and the City and Girlfriends too, but we all know it!)
Credit: Courtesy of HBO Max
There is also something to be said about the show’s nods to modern feminism, both through the writing and its direction. A major visual theme in the series is the reversal of the male gaze, whether that be through the girls’ navigation of hook-up culture, responses to the differing — and sometimes problematic — forms of male sexual prowess, or even Magic Mike sequences of muscular dry-humping pageantry.
Oftentimes, in combating an institution as overwhelming as the patriarchy, the characters engage in reinforcing patriarchal beliefs and habits that set them back a couple of steps. There is opportunity for the series to leverage better modes of feminist ideology, but for now, it’s still being utilized as the show’s “buzzword” that sort of breaks the fourth wall instead of displaying a firm grasp on its ethics within the plot.
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For example, Bela quits comedy magazine The Catullan — a wink at The Harvard Lampoon, which is historically packed with white cis men, including some of Kaling’s colleagues from The Office — and launches a female-led rival, yet she’s guilty of diminishing other women when she jokes that women aren’t funny. Leighton also has a hand in reproducing harmful hook-up culture behavior by failing to keep her sexual partners updated about her recent STI diagnoses, instead choosing to ghost and gaslight as bad as any dude.
But these characters are supposed to be complex, imperfect, and a little self-absorbed; they are still teenagers, after all. The beauty in this show is that the girls aren’t scolded or antagonized for making mistakes as they mature in a male-dominated society; it shouldn’t be their job to deconstruct the systems that hurt them, and they’re still doing a pretty damn good job for a couple of freshmen. They screw up, they learn, and they pick up the pieces for the next inciting incident. Sometimes we fail tests weve studied for for 48 hours straight and make a beeline to the nearest frat party for a night of excitement and mistakes we (hopefully) wont remember in the morning. The writers capture the unique and chaotic essence of the undergraduate experience in this first half of the comedy-drama sophomore season, and it gives me all of the feels.
Here’s my season 2 crash course: Yes, Kimberly is still as naive as a fawn. Whitney should probably stay single; her love life is giving me whiplash. Leighton enters her fuckboy era, and I’m praying she leaves soon. And of course, no, Bela has not become kin to wearing clothes her own size, or clothes at all, for that matter. As the final episodes of the upcoming season rolls out, the girls better pray for some considerable character development to ease their rocky situationships and hard-ass professors. It looks like theres no stopping the momentum anytime soon for our college pals.