The Sex Life Of College Girls combines Mindy Kaling’s sharp-witted writing, along with a knack for choosing a cast to bring her words to life, both of which are also on display in her Netflix series Never Have I Ever. The entertaining young adult comedy derives great humor from its contained college environment.
The HBO Max series takes place at the prestigious Essex College, an amalgamation of Ivy League universities, including Dartmouth and Yale, the respective alma maters of Kaling and her co-creator Justin Noble. The setting allows for scathing comedic takes on staple collegiate topics: Greek life, student bodies, first crushes. It captures the exciting tension of the post-high school, stepping-into-adulthood phase.
Four roommates from different walks of life—aspiring comedy writer Bela (Amrit Kaur), naïve scholarship student Kimberley (Pauline Chalamet), cool athlete Whitney (Alyah Chanelle Scott), mean and posh New York City transplant Leighton (Reneé Rapp)—find common ground in their newfound freedom and discover their adventurous sides.
SLOCG’s central quartet isn’t stuck with any limited descriptors. Each character’s experiences are a solid mix of engaging and empathetic, even if the stories are borderline predictable. The cast chemistry is compelling; they efficiently sell their bond, progressing from an initial awkwardness to believably overcoming their dissimilarities, especially Leighton and Kimberley, who hail from very different socioeconomic settings.
Chalamet—yes, she is Timotheé’s sister—brings an endearing, wide-eyed appeal to Kimberley. The shyest of the lot, Kimberley is the most relatable as she works hard to open up and expand her worldview. Rapp mines from her time as Regina George on Broadway’s Mean Girls, but with surprising vulnerability; Leighton is also a closeted lesbian from an affluent, conservative white family.
Whitney is unfortunately bogged down by the teen TV trope of a student-teacher romance, an arc that trots along without any inventive subversion, at least not in the first half of season one. Yet, Scott parses through her character’s roller-coaster emotions with depth. Kaur might be the breakout here. Bela is horny for dudes with abs, but her real goal is to thrive in Essex’s comedy scene. The only catch is that her parents still believe she’s a good ole nerd acing all her classes. Kaur’s zealous performance adds a hilarious jolt to any scene, no matter who her on-screen partner is; she crushes her deadpan delivery of one-liners, and guards Bela’s bubbling emotions when she gets involved in a couple of particularly distressing situations.
Season one serves up an interesting variety of love stories, like Kimberley’s sweet and budding one with Leighton’s dreamy brother, Nico (Gavin Leatherwood), and an unexpected team-up between Leighton and a new friend she makes at Essex. Whitney is saddled with secretly dating her assistant football coach, Dalton (James Morosini). Meanwhile, Bela is content with hooking up with fellow hot college students.
SLOCG might initially put off audiences because of its title. However, much like Sex And The City from over two decades ago, the HBO Max series focuses on crafting authentic friendships between the group. The camaraderie makes it easy for them to also divulge secrets, sexual mishaps and victories, and makes room for personal growth.
The depiction of sex isn’t nearly as risqué as in fellow teen comedy Sex Education, but Sex Lives Of College Girls is still Kaling’s boldest work so far. The young characters here are uninhibited thanks to the lack of adult supervision, lots of empty rooms, and the ability to freely drink. The way the show tackles how teens cope with sudden freedom is both funny and truthful.
In fact, SLOCG rarely dwells on any parental subplots or drama. The entire focus is on Bela, Leighton, Kimberley, Whitney, and their peers. Their respective parents—played by guest stars including Sherri Shepherd, Rob Huebel, and Nicole Sullivan—only sporadically show up or are mentioned after dropping their kids off at Essex. There’s a pivotal and unnerving family dinner in the sixth episode, but the show holds on to its unbridled vibe even in the more dramatic moments. This coming-of-age story is a joyride.