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Searching for your next de-stress show? 'The Sex Lives of College Girls' should be your next stream

HBO Max's latest hit, "The Sex Lives of College Girls," follows four best friends as they navigate the ups-and-downs of adulthood.  – Photo by The Sex Lives of College Girls / Twitter

The Sex Lives of College Girls” is a new HBO Max comedy-drama written by Mindy Kaling and Justin Noble. The show, which premiered in November 2021, follows the journey of four first-year roommates at the fictional Essex College.

While the show certainly lives up to its matter-of-fact title, much like other contemporary young adult shows like “Sex Education” and “Never Have I Ever,” it also explores the rapidly evolving personalities and deepening human relationships of its college-age characters. 

By viewing the trope of “coming of age” myopically and universalizing it to the horribly dull temporal period of high school for many, college kids (veiled as adults on paper) are often underrepresented in popular media.

Unlike shows set in high school that oversexualize minors and their lifestyles, “The Sex Lives of College Girls” maintains a sense of frank awkwardness throughout its 10 short episodes. The story of “The Sex Lives of College Girls" is characterized by humility and realism which shows like the reimagined “Gossip Girl,” “Riverdale” and “Euphoria” greatly lack. 

In a recent video commentary about the oversexualization of teens on TV, YouTuber imuRgency cited “The Sex Lives of College Girls” as a good example of a series that gets sex right. He said, “You’re still very much coming of age in your freshman year of college …because you're in a completely new environment, you have completely new friends. You're free to do whatever you want, which means you can get into whatever mess you want.” 

And “The Sex Lives of College Girls” perfectly set against the backdrop of a quaint liberal arts institution in Vermont, is very, very messy. 

The four main characters — Bela (played by Amrit Kaur), Kimberly (Pauline Chalamet), Leighton (Reneé Rapp) and Whitney (Alyah Chanelle Scott)— live as a unit in their freshman apartment building but could not come from more separate worlds.

Bela is an aspiring Indian American comedy writer from New Jersey (a semi-autobiographical character for Kaling), Kimberly is your typical nerd from a working-class background in Arizona, Leighton is a rich, blonde New York City mean girl and Whitney is a stellar soccer player and daughter of a prominent Black senator.

Their chaotic but relatively seamless roommate dynamic reminds me of my various experiences living in an on-campus residence hall, then a suite and then an apartment.

Inserted into the confusing new microcosm of humanity that is undergraduate life, the girls' hopes are wide-reaching.

Bela wants to write for the competitive on-campus comedy publication, Kimberly wants to get good grades and meet people from more diverse backgrounds, Leighton wants to live up the legacies of her wealthy alumnus father and Kappa mother and Whitney wants to succeed as an athlete while upholding her mother’s political reputation. 

The "sex lives" part of the show is where the plot gets clumsy, zany and extremely entertaining. Naked parties, checking off mental bucket lists of sexual activities, post-fraternity party hangovers and fooling around in unexpected places are just some of the jaw-dropping and "laugh-out-loud" moments in the series.

While the comedy and ridiculousness of the girls’ actions are what the show promises in the teaser trailer, "The Sex Lives of College Girls” also delivers on emotional subjects in meaningful ways.

While heartbreak and adventure are a part of the elusive college experience for students, many girls at college also must deal with issues that are far from romantic, such as sexual assault and harassment, racism, homophobia and economic hardship. 

The poor decisions that the girls make aren’t always silly and for laughs, and in some ways, have challenging and life-altering consequences. For instance, Kimberly’s story of being exposed to new people and experiences, as someone who doesn’t come from money at a private school where much of the student body is economically privileged, felt like a story that hasn’t been told very well in the past on-screen.

There are very few forms of popular media that recognize the mental, emotional, social and financial burdens that come with pursuing an undergraduate education. Each main character grapples with and manages their parents’ high expectations, as well as their own. The supporting cast of families, peers, love interests and student leaders only add nuance to the four girls’ entangling lives at Essex. 

Despite Bela, Kimberly, Leighton and Whitney’s surface-level differences in cultural background and interests, they’re all similar in that they have a lot of love and empathy for one another that continues to grow over their tumultuous first semester of college.

With each passing conversation and outing, their unlikely friendships become stronger and will probably feel familiar to those students who know they at last found their tribe at university. The four girls that Kaling and Noble craft in their writing are authentic and tenacious, but still flawed and relatable.

If you’re looking for a comfort dramedy that’s engaging and takes you through a rollercoaster of fluttery feelings, “The Sex Lives of College Girls” on HBO Max is for you. The show isn’t a radical move in television, but it's by no means mundane either.

Apart from the essential ingredients of a great premise, complex characters and inclusivity, this show is incredibly endearing and has filled a void in the television consumption of college girls looking for an intelligent distraction.

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