Our girls are back at Essex College and—to our delight—their lives are messier than ever!
In the second season of The Sex Lives of College Girls (2022), series creators Mindy Kaling and Justin Noble reunite us with roommates Kimberly (Pauline Chalamet), Whitney (Alyah Chanelle Scott), Bela (Amrit Kaur), and Leighton (Reneé Rapp). As evidenced by her work on Never Have I Ever, Kaling has a talent for creating addictive television, and The Sex Lives of College Girls season two proves to be no exception.
Essex College represents an exaggerated college stereotype, and that’s ok. Like many teen dramas, The Sex Lives of College Girls often sacrifices relatability in favor of maintaining a high entertainment factor. Of course, the show does feature some familiar college experiences, such as the hilarious Snow Run scene in the season premiere where girls scream “This is going to be the best night of our lives!” before cutting to them miserably white-knuckling it in their tiny party outfits in the freezing cold. However, rather than trying to emulate the often monotonous daily grind of college, The Sex Lives of College Girls provides us with a campus where ridiculous antics and shirtless hunks are lurking around every corner. When combined with a myriad of zany, laugh-out-loud one-liners, this fantastical exaggeration makes it the perfect show for a study break.
Each of the four main roommates is taken in a new direction this season. Bela begins an all-female comedy magazine entitled The Foxy, leading to a delightful collaboration with the hilarious Lila (Ilia Isorelýs Paulino) and a flirtatious rivalry with The Catullan’s lead editor, Eric (Mekki Leeper). While Bela leans further into her passion for comedy, Whitney struggles with her identity now that the soccer season has ended. Eager for a new challenge, she tenaciously persists through a difficult biology class with an even more difficult know-it-all, Andrew (Charlie Hall). Speaking of challenges, Kimberly must now find a way to pay for Essex as a low-income student after the revocation of her scholarship. Lastly, after coming out of the closet, Leighton finds that navigating the complicated queer dating scene at Essex is easier said than done.
After ten episodes, each character finds themselves in a much different place from where they started thanks to The Sex Lives of College Girls’s lightning-fast pace. This rapid speed contributes to the show’s effortless bingeability, ensuring that there is truly never a dull moment in the five-hour total run time of the season. However, particularly towards the back-half of the season, this quickness can also be a detriment to the characters’ development, with the plot moving so fast that their decisions feel unnatural and rushed. While all of the characters─both due to their youth and their place in the Mindy Kaling cinematic universe─make irrational, short-sighted choices throughout the entirety of the show, some of the decisions in the last couple of episodes still feel even more out of the blue than normal.
This phenomenon was particularly true of the Core Four’s romantic relationships. For starters, after the season one finale hinted towards a potential Bela and Eric slow burn, their hook-up at the end of episode one felt equal parts exciting and disappointing. Though their relationship did ultimately progress somewhat slowly, having more build-up before their first kiss would have provided a fun plotline to root for throughout the season and would have made their eventual collision even more satisfying. The instantaneous nature of their relationship was especially lackluster considering how well the delayed gratification formula worked for couples like Kimberly and Nico (Gavin Leatherwood) and Leighton and Alicia (Midori Francis) last season. I was fully invested in both of these pairings and was heartbroken when each of them broke up.
Speaking of break-ups, this season they were often just as rushed as the hook-ups. From Leighton and Tatum (Gracie Dzienny) to Whitney and Canaan (Christopher Meyer) to Bela and Eric, none of these couples last longer than an episode or two before calling it quits, leaving the anticipation for all of these relationships to feel fruitless. By far the most confusing of these break-ups was that between Kimberly and Jackson (Mitchell Slaggart), a six-pack-clad Kansas climate refugee who transfers to Essex after his college blows away in a category four tornado (I truly cannot make this up). Throughout the season, Jackson proves himself time and time again to be an absolute sweetheart (emphasis on the ab), and his chemistry with Kimberly is one of the highlights of her storyline this season. Therefore, for their relationship to be flushed down the drain in favor of opening the door between Kimberly and Canaan (despite their being, again, little-to-no build-up) felt confusing. It was by far the most shocking moment of the season, and not necessarily in the best way. Even though I love both of their characters and I believe they have potential to be an interesting pairing, if the season was going to end with their union, there should have been many more breadcrumbs left along the way to avoid the viewer feeling blindsided.
While the tumultuous nature of these romantic pairings is somewhat accurate to the drama-filled nature of “situationships” in the modern college dating scene, if the show is going to lean into some unrealistic elements of the college experience for the sake of entertainment, hopefully the writers can recognize that this is one area in which art need not necessarily imitate life. After all, while these sudden twists and turns were undoubtedly entertaining, slowing down the pace to allow for more plot development will make the show more sustainable and ensure that the writers room does not burn through all of their ideas by the end of the third season.
The handling of the Kimberly and Canaan romance is also somewhat disappointing considering it drives a frustrating wedge between Kimberly and Whitney. The fact that Kaling and Noble had managed to create a teen drama that did not frequently resort to conflict within the main group of girls for the sake of advancing the plot had been one of the most refreshing elements of the show thus far. Perhaps expecting this trend to continue into a third season was somewhat unrealistic—after all, conflict between friends, particularly roommates, is certainly a common problem that many college students face. However, it is my hope that, like many of the other plotlines this season, this cattier arc is swiftly dealt with so that the girls can move forward as a united front once more.
Nevertheless, while some character choices frustrated me, if characters didn’t frustrate me every now and then, The Sex Lives of College Girls wouldn’t really be a teen drama now would it? Furthermore, the fact that the audience is still able to so fervently root for these characters even when they make questionable decisions and become their own worst enemies is a testament to the heavy lifting done on behalf of the writers and actors in season one to make us fall in love with this vivacious cast of characters.
While this show is not without its flaws, Kaling and Noble’s The Sex Lives of College Girls skillfully fills a gap in the teen drama genre: the too-often neglected college years. The college years are rarely given the spotlight in teen dramas, usually reserved for fourth and fifth season fodder when the writer’s room begins to lose steam (typically evidenced by love triangles shapeshifting into love octagons, the sudden, inexplicable arrival of “long lost” siblings, and the grating deterioration of once-compelling protagonists). The college years for teen dramas are typically an afterthought, a byproduct of a show overstaying its welcome rather than a period of young adult life explored with intentionality. Therefore, having a show that mimics a fast-paced, bingeable high school drama with a lovable cast portraying a spectrum of college-specific experiences makes The Sex Lives of College Girls a refreshing watch for Gen-Zer’s who are eager to see pieces of this new chapter of their lives played out on screen.