Review: ‘The Sex Lives of College Girls’ is a refreshing look at… well, that
But I do feel personally attacked.
Dec 1, 2021
I am an Indian girl who loves comedy, so I have to watch anything Mindy Kaling makes. Also, as a college student, any show about other college students instantly grabs my attention. And since I’m from Vermont, any fictional show set in the state becomes something I must consume. “The Sex Lives of College Girls” is at the center of that Venn diagram, so naturally I dropped everything to write this review. Fuck homework!
The HBO Max show, which was co-created by Kaling and Justin Noble of Netflix’s “Never Have I Ever,” premiered on Nov. 18. The first five episodes are now streaming, with the remaining five to follow in chunks through Dec. 9. The show follows the sex lives — and lives in general — of four freshmen at a fictional New England liberal arts school, Essex College. They bond, they fight, they make dumb choices and they have sex.
I know I’m the target demographic, so a mere 30 seconds into the pilot, the writers came for me directly. On the way to move her daughter into her dorm, a girl’s mom says, “Vermont? Why is it even a state? Bunch of potheads making maple syrup.” Five minutes later, another of the girls introduces her white roommate’s family to her Indian parents, and her roommate’s mom responds, “We’re Irish.” I’m Irish and Indian, and never have I ever felt targeted for it!
In addition to roasting me, “The Sex Lives of College Girls” has a lot to offer. First of all, it’s covered in Kaling’s fingerprints. In classic Kaling fashion, the over-the-top, satirical dialogue — like calling tacos “ethnic food” — is delivered deadpan. I was also impressed by how the writers set up themes with overused, conventional tropes, then abruptly subvert them to create dialogue that is genuinely surprising.
This works because the story is driven by a diverse cast of smart, high-achieving young women who are naive, yet still believe in themselves. They go after what they want while encouraging each other, though they’re sometimes misguided in their efforts.
Bela is eager, determined and naive, but convinces her friends to live a little, not unlike Devi from “Never Have I Ever.” Whitney is a boldly flirtatious soccer player, who is having an affair with her coach and is also the daughter of a senator. Kimberly is nerdy and well-meaning but ignorant. She’s from a lower class background and defensive of herself and her friends. Leighton, a New York City socialite and Essex legacy, is guarded — which turns out to be because she’s hiding that she’s gay.
Some of the girls’ flaws are demonstrated heavy-handedly. Leighton apologizes for being mean to her roommates by buying them all iPads. Kimberly tells her new coworker how excited she is that he’s her “first Black friend,” which is even more cringeworthy when you remember she has a Black roommate… who is apparently not her friend? I don’t understand it.
But despite some awkwardness, the writers introduce a lot of social issues very efficiently. They get the low-hanging fruit out of the way quickly, like digs at woke TikTok influencers and college orientation icebreakers. In the first two episodes alone, the show touches on class privilege through work-study jobs, the fetishization of Black women, obstacles for women of color in comedy and STEM, and of course, coming of age and identity.
With this pacing, the show lays the groundwork for considerable depth. It’s the update to the college girl dramedy canon I didn’t know I wanted. Moreover, it’s a refreshing alternative to the high school dramedies that we, as a culture, can’t seem to escape.
Also, for a show about college girls’ sex lives, the first hour and a half of content featured refreshingly little screen time for the character’s significant others. It truly focused on the girls and their goals, fears, and ultimately, their happiness. A perfect example of this approach is Bela persuading her friends to come to a party at the end of the first episode.
“Maybe we’ll end up meeting a guy who doesn’t treat us like garbage,” she says. “Or not. It doesn’t matter, at least we’ll be having fun.”
I rarely see teenage female characters on TV with this attitude — it’s refreshing because it’s positive and real.
“The Sex Lives of College Girls” is less zany than Kaling’s other work, but that’s okay. It promised to portray the sex lives of college girls and has already delivered. Though it’s not the Vermont I know — at the end of the pilot, Leighton goes to a casino where people are shockingly well-dressed — it’s off to a promising start. As it should, the show concentrates on the girls at its center and I’m excited to see them grow throughout the rest of the season.
Contact Sabrina Choudhary at [email protected]