“The Sex Lives of College Girls” is Great Television 101


Image found on IMDb.

Audrey Lai, Editor in Chief

On Wednesday, Dec. 8, the final episode of season one of “The Sex Lives of College Girls” was released, with the show already recieving a renewal before the last episode premiered. The series follows the everyday joys and hardships of four eclectic roommates of the fictitious Essex College – work-study student Kimberly (Pauline Chalamet), wannabe comedy writer Bela (Amrit Kaur), wealthy legacy student Leighton (Reneé Rapp) and pro soccer player Whitney (Alyah Chanelle Scott). Created by comedy giants Mindy Kaling of “The Office” and Justin Noble of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” this season mixes the perfect batch of ten episodes that are simultaneously laugh-out-loud funny and warmly touching, as well as a must watch for teens and adults alike.

The shining stars of the show are the four main characters who undergo various challenges of growing up, which range from the charmingly trivial, such as Bela dragging Kimberly to a naked party, to the more weighty, such as sexual assault allegations within Essex College’s humor magazine, The Catullan. The bonds that develop between the four girls as the season progresses are a delightfully authentic take on the found family trope and a sweet portrayal of real friendship. With the majority of its teen comedy-drama peers taking place in high school, it is refreshing to see a different setting that allows for deeper character growth through college experiences.

By far the best character development came through Leighton, who began as a disconnected socialite who veiled her insecurities through a hostile front and ended the season as more confident and compassionate due to the camaraderie of her roommates. Her blossoming relationship with Alicia that intertwined with her journey in coming out as a lesbian were represented sincerely and with real understanding.

In addition, I particularly connected with Bela as a character due to her creative career ambitions in addition to her background as a daughter of immigrant parents. Although her personality could not be farther from mine – I’m more of a shy Kimberly – I see glimpses of my relationship with my parents in hers.

“The Sex Lives of College Girls” contributes to a slow but steady movement in television to increased representation on screen – not only do the cast and characters boast a wide range of underrepresented groups, but they also do them justice in their portrayals. All main and side characters defy their respective minority groups’ stereotypes, but this characterization is neither forced nor superficial as their personalities cannot be anchored by a single trait and are thoroughly fleshed out.

This characterization can probably be attributed to the wide diversity of the writers’ room and overall staff, a prime example being Bela’s identity as an Indian-American woman pursuing a writing career in comedy matching co-creator Kaling’s own. Marking a stride in diversity both in front of the screen and behind, the series is a welcome addition to the increase in progressive shows in the teen comedy-drama genre.

However, one fault I found within the show is the sometimes idealistic portrayal of serious topics. They’re mostly handled well, but I thought the reaction to Whitney’s affair with her soccer coach from her teammates had a lack of a much needed climax. With the framing of the event as a threat between the relationship between Whitney and her team, the immediate resolution without actual conflict felt like an attempt to tie the storyline together before the end of the season. The ending left me without a sense of satisfaction because it failed to explore the complexities of the situation that had a lot of potential to create further discussion.

The show teeters on dramatism in spite of its realistic plotlines – which is part of its charm, at least most of the time. Plotlines resemble those of dramas, but the tone of the show is usually lighthearted, making it feel more like a sitcom. Many of the characters’ quips are amusingly over the top without edging into “Riverdale” territory. Frequent use of pop culture references and teen slang in dialogue are generally used appropriately (Bela’s recurrent remarks on Saturday Night Live are much appreciated), but a well-meaning line here or there will make me physically cringe. However, overall, the dialogue manages to be exaggerated without seeming artificial, an impressive feat that keeps the show entertaining. In addition, the clothing worn by the cast is characteristic of teen fashion trends, unlike the out of place business casual of other shows of the genre.

My favorite episode of the season, “Parents Weekend,” perfectly encapsulates what the series is about in both its content and tone. The four roommates invite their parents to Essex for dinner, and discord ensues both within the families and between the families. Kimberly grapples with the wealth gap between her and her roommates, Bela’s parents still believe Bela is studying biochemistry, Whitney wrestles with the fact that her absent father has decided not to arrive last minute and Leighton is faced with her complicated relationship with her family. The dinner is a fiasco, but the group comes out mostly unscathed because of the strong unity between the four.

“The Sex Lives of College Girls” manages to juggle giving the portrayal of serious topics justice while also not taking itself too seriously. It’s not exactly an original story – it follows the teen comedy-drama formula to a T – but it does it exceptionally well and in a fashion that allows for continued quality storytelling, thanks to its stellar writing and genuine heart. With the last episode of the season leaving a multitude of loose ends, I’m looking forward to seeing how they’ll be tied – or how new ones will be left hanging in season two. The first season of “The Sex Lives of Teenage Girls” is currently available to stream on HBO Max.