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‘The Sex Lives of College Girls’ shines in second installment

Krishna Rajpara I Assistant Photo Editor
The first two Season 2 episodes of “The Sex Lives of College Girls” premieres Nov. 17 on HBO Max. The 10-episode season will continue with a two episode-per-week rollout culminating with the season finale on Dec. 15.

There has never been a shortage of successful high school dramedies on television, but series set in college are few and far between, making Mindy Kaling’s “The Sex Lives of College Girls” truly a one-of-its-kind find.

While high school is undeniably a more universal American experience, a TV show set in college strikes a rare dynamic of characters teetering somewhere in between adolescence and adulthood while living just blocks from one another on the same campus. The comedy written, produced and directed by the “The Office” alumna utilizes relatable teen tropes in four randomly assigned freshmen roommates – Kimberly (Pauline Chalamet – yes, Timothee’s sister), Bela (Amrit Kaur), Leighton (Reneé Rapp) and Whitney (Alyah Chanelle Scott) – whose engaging portrayals of tumultuous friendships, relationships and hookups are the heart of the series.

Despite its name, the essence of “The Sex Lives of College Girls” truly lies in its authentic depiction of female friendships found during the formative years between the ages of 18 and 22. Season 1, which premiered on HBO Max last November, introduced viewers to four distinct archetypes of college women to illustrate the ins and outs of navigating relationships and sex during a period of life that can be intense, dramatic and uncertain for anyone, not just those who attend college.

Overachieving, awkwardly lovable, work-study student Kimberly struggles to fit in among her wealthier peers. Ambitious-yet-goofy aspiring comic Bela provides an autobiographical look into Kaling’s experience as a young Indian-American woman hoping to break into the male-dominated world of comedy. Seemingly effortlessly composed student athlete Whitney juggles a secret affair with her married soccer coach while trying to escape the shadow of her overbearing mother, who happens to be a famous Congresswoman. It takes closeted New York City it-girl Leighton a few episodes to break down her emotional walls, but once she does, she has impeccable chemistry with the other three roommates.

As each character develops throughout a chaotic first trimester at the fictional Essex College in Vermont, inspired by Kaling’s own alma mater Dartmouth, the quartet’s unlikely friendship continues to blossom despite their immense differences in personalities, interests and backgrounds – a common phenomenon in college roommates, thrown together in a turbulent period of their lives.

We got an advanced look at the first six out of 10 episodes of Season 2, which premieres with the first two episodes Nov. 17 on HBO Max. The 10-episode season will continue with a two episode-per-week rollout culminating with the season finale on Dec. 15.

Now back for their second trimester after returning from Thanksgiving break, the girls are faced with an all-new set of problems. Kimberly loses her scholarship after being caught cheating on a test and is forced to find a creative way to pay her tuition without her parents knowing. Leighton is finally out to her peers at school but ends up in over her head in a messy attempt to catch up on the dating scene she’s missed, which could potentially impact her chances of rushing a sorority. Upon leaving her once-coveted spot at Essex’s prestigious comedy magazine after experiencing sexual harassment, Bela struggles to pave her own way when she starts an all-women comedy group faced with barriers including low readership and campus engagement. Whitney finds herself with no passions or hobbies to fall back on after ending things with her coach and quitting soccer, unsure of her identity outside of the sports world.

Although obstacles are still thrown at each character, this season feels lighter – the friendships are stronger, the characters are more defined and each member of the group has seemingly learned to stick to their convictions in ways that were less apparent in Season 1 when they struggled to find their place in the transition between high school and adulthood.

Kimberly is noticeably more secure and confident in her romantic pursuits, Leighton no longer feels internal pressure to hide her sexuality from her friends, Bela stands up for herself against powerful men despite inevitable pushback and Whitney takes control of her narrative for the first time with an especially exciting budding romance with Kimberly’s adorable coworker at the campus coffee shop, Canaan (Chris Meyer). As an added bonus, the arrival of Jackson (Mitchell Slaggert), a transfer student who frequently appears in the hallway shirtless, piques the attention of all of the girls, even Leighton.

Overall, the first half of Season 2 ultimately shines in the places where some of Season 1 fell short. Rapp’s mean-girl portrayal of Leighton in Season 1 is witty and entertaining – after all, Rapp starred as Regina George in Tina Fey’s “Mean Girls” Broadway musical adaptation, so she’s no stranger to embodying a “queen bee” persona. But the series feels most authentic when each girl lets down her guard with one another, which is the essence of Season 2, aided by the on-screen chemistry among Chalamet, Rapp, Kaur and Scott.

It’s clear that the series will continue to flourish throughout the remainder of Season 2 and onward if renewed for a third season. The heartfelt and hilarious comedy does not skip out on drama or sex, but its wide-ranging, sometimes-exaggerated depictions of college life successfully illustrate the nuances of an extremely multifaceted period of life.

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