More than anything, HBO Max’s The Sex Lives Of College Girls thrives on having a good time. If the first season demonstrated that by taking full advantage of its college setting, the second one amplifies it, allowing the young protagonists to enjoy a giddy post-high school phase of freedom while discovering sexual preferences, career goals, and permanent friendships. Four suitemates at Essex University juggle strikingly relatable identity crises, but a “study hard, party harder” thesis helps the show stay lighthearted. TSLOCG tries to be evocative and feminist with mixed results, but overall, the new episodes (six of 10 were screened for review) remain just as entertaining as ever.
The series avoids a sophomore slump because co-creators Mindy Kaling and Justin Noble embrace the qualities that made the show successful. Chief among them is the connection between the leads. Bela (Amrit Kaur), Leighton (Renée Rapp), Whitney (Alyah Chanelle Scott), and Kimberly (Pauline Chalamet) find depth in their bond despite differing backgrounds and upbringings, and the actors’ easygoing chemistry helps sell TSLOCG’s main premise. While their individual storylines in season two range from redundant (sorry, Kimberly) to compelling (like Whitney’s surprising arc), any scene with all four of them exchanging banter stands out.
Season two kicks off just as the girls return from Thanksgiving break and reunite in their dorm. And they’ve come a long way after only one semester as roommates. Unlike in the series premiere, now there’s just relief when they greet each other after spending time with their families. (Leighton had to continue pretending she’s into guys, while Kimberly got dropped off by her parents via a 39-hour road trip from Kansas.)
TSLOCG then settles into a familiar space of witty repartee, sex jokes, and physical comedy as the episodes continue. The structure is similar to season one, but there’s nothing wrong with carving out and building on a specific comedic sweet spot. (It’s called a “comfort watch” for a reason.) And the show’s humor comes from their desire to live it up while making the most of their Ivy League education. Unfortunately, after Kimberly exposed a cheating scandal at their usual frat hangout, the group is banned from their events. They make it their mission to find a solution, including throwing an elegant stripping soiree. Again, TSLOCG isn’t ashamed of frivolous collegiate revelry, and it’s all the better for it. (Plus, it’s refreshingly not as over-the-top as Gossip Girl.)
Leighton is the one who most lives up to the show’s title now, though. She’s finally out as a lesbian and is making up for lost time. Through her arc, the writing unpacks stereotypes surrounding casual hookups (with an extra dash of prejudice because she’s queer). Whitney defies expectations during soccer’s off-season by signing up for an extra-difficult class and facing casual racism along the way. Her attempts to discover what else college has to offer and get more studious become challenging because of her friends (and her boyfriend)—and it rings pretty true.
The writers’ room is clearly equipped to handle nuanced stories about the college experience, some of them drawn from Kaling and Noble’s own time at Dartmouth and Yale, respectively. So it’s less impactful when Kimberly’s arc is essentially rinsed and repeated, except this time it’s not a potential romance with hot jock Nico (Gavin Leatherwood) but with another hot jock, Jackson (Mitchell Slaggert). Unlike her three companions, Chalamet’s character unfortunately isn’t given room to grow so she doesn’t showcase any range at all.
And then there’s Bela, played by Kaur, who is ever-charming in her delivery, not missing a beat while mouthing crass one-liners and owning her sexuality. If this was Sex And The City, Bela would end up being a lovable, strong-headed Samantha as she pursues her ambition to start a female-writers-only comedy magazine on campus. Through her, TSLOCG presents a deeply flawed yet relatable young adult whose messy decisions—she makes several this time around—will hopefully have a payoff as the season closes.
Despite an uneven progression, TSLOCG remains high-spirited, tackling poignant themes without digging into them too deeply. The show covers gender, socioeconomic, and racial biases—but only really scratches the surface. Kimberly, for instance, struggles to get a loan while living with at least two girls hailing from excruciatingly wealthy families. Then again, almost everyone continues to have only white love interests whose bland personalities make it impossible to care for them when compared with the protagonists they’re dating. That said, Bela and Whitney’s journeys and professional dreams aren’t limited by cultural tropes, thanks to self-confident performances and scripts. TSLOCG isn’t necessarily interested in all the serious aspects of college—and that’s cool. Creating a glossy and good-humored show is its own kind of triumphant.
The Sex Lives Of College Girls season 2 premieres November 17 on HBO Max.