“The Sex Lives of College Girls,” Mindy Kaling & Justin Noble’s faux-feminist, ultra-privileged campus-set sex romp sitcom, is back for another mind-numbingly unfunny second season on HBOMax. While there is sex and they are on a college campus, most of the humor falls flat, and the characters remain emotionally stagnant in this dismal sophomore slump.
At the end of the first season, elite Essex college suite mates Kimberly (Pauline Chalamet), Bela (Amrit Kaur), Whitney (Alyah Chanelle Scott), and Leighton (Reneé Rapp) found themselves at a crossroads. Kimberly’s academic scholarship was revoked after she was caught cheating on a midterm. Bela brought sexual assault allegations against a co-editor of The Catullan, the primer campus comedy magazine, and has decided to launch her own female-led competitor. Whitney’s affair with her soccer coach derailed the team’s NCAA dreams. After breaking up with her first girlfriend Alicia (Midori Francis), closeted lesbian Leighton finally comes out to someone else in her life.
Most of these issues are slightly addressed before being forgotten early on in season two. Refusing to tell her parents the situation in order to secure a loan, Kimberly concocts a few schemes to get the money she needs to continue her studies. Bela’s all-female comedy magazine launches and the vibes she had at the end of the season with Eric (Mekki Leeper), the other co-editor The Catullan, goes from friends with benefits to something more serious. Taking her classes seriously for once, Whitney discovers the joy in learning and that college is not just “something you do” before adulthood. Leighton finds out that the Essex lesbian community is a lot more tight-knit than she had imagined.
The more serious issues are brushed aside. We never find out what became of the student who sexually assaulted Bela. Nico (Gavin Leatherwood), Leighton’s brother who cheated on his girlfriend with Kimberly, is written off with barely a sentence to his name. There’s no heartbreak for any of the relationships that were shattered (including Whitney’s deep love of soccer). In fact, there’s barely any emotional heft at all. The highest stakes of the new season are whether or not the girls will be able to attend frat parties again. Gasp!
Somehow what was a semester system in the first season is now a trimester, which mostly allows the show to address Thanksgiving break and have a Christmas episode, yet makes Kimberly’s financial situation all the more unrealistic. From the start, Kimberly has been set up as a hayseed who is actively described as “poor,” yet somehow her parents can afford to spend 39 hours and $1500 to drive her back after Thanksgiving break. Every time they call her poor I can’t help but think of that scene in “Frances Ha” where Greta Gerwig’s character says she can’t afford to chip in for a maid because she’s poor and her flatmate tells her that’s an insult to actual poor people. I keep waiting for someone in this show to have just a modicum of that kind of self-awareness.
But it seems the show is so deeply rooted in a rich East Coast elitist point of view that anyone who is vaguely middle class is considered poor – not just in comparison with the rich classmates, but by the writers themselves. Not only that but there’s also this view that anyone who isn’t from a coast must be a bumbling bumpkin. This is seen not just in the one-note way Kimberly is portrayed but also in how the show treats her new love interest, “climate change refugee” Jackson (Mitchell Slaggert), whose entire college was decimated by a tornado. The show plays them both for comedic effect but in a punching-down “laugh at, not with” style.
On top of its skewed views of economics, the show continues the same faux feminist themes it perpetuated in the first season. Thankfully, it’s no longer using most of Leighton’s screentime to make fun of the gender studies students who ran the women’s shelter. However, characters bandy about the word “feminist” like it’s a trendy buzzword. The more it’s repeated, the less meaning it has, eventually ringing as hollow as the show’s meager understanding of what feminist ideology actually is.
We see this in action throughout the season, as much of Bela’s storyline sees her belittling the talents of other women in her own magazine. In one episode going so far as to “joke” that maybe The Catullan was right not to hire women until 1994. This sequence is followed by the punchline for one of Kimberly’s money-making schemes being that it’s impossible because Australian accents are hard to understand, which itself is about as unfunny as the jokes Bela thinks aren’t good enough for her magazine.
There is still plenty of sex in the show, though in a post- “Girls” or even “Sex Education” world, is it really all that revolutionary to show that girls are just as horny as boys? It seems none of these Gen-Z kids have ever taken a sex-ed class or even watched a sex-ed TikTok with the number of shenanigans they get into accidentally. Nor do they ever seem to have much of an arc in terms of their emotional maturity as the show progresses.
Everything else aside, this may be the most egregious of the show’s flaws. Although lots of plot happens to our protagonists throughout both seasons, they are not afforded much emotional growth. The actresses, especially Chalamet and Kaur, keep their characters on the exact same one-note wavelength throughout the series, making it incredibly hard to care about anything that happens to them.
Theoretically, if this show returns for a third season it would be the final trimester of their freshman year and the characters would need nine more seasons after that to finish out their degrees. I can think of few things more painful than spending that much time in this vapid, privileged world with these vapid, privileged girls. [F]