Your favorite Essex University sluts (I’m using this in the loving, reclaimed sense of the word, don’t fight me) are back navigating sex, relationships, friendship, and the curvature of frat boys’ abdominals to kick off their second semester of college.
Season 2 of HBO Max’s hit comedy
The Sex Lives of College Girls, from co-creators Mindy Kaling and Justin Noble, dropped its first two episodes on Thursday. Though the streamer plans to drop the remaining eight episodes leading up to the season finale on December 15, so far, the second season is shaping up to be nice and fun, and we hardly get nice, fun things anymore.
The show picks up after Thanksgiving break, as Bela (Amrit Kaur), Leighton (Renée Rapp), Whitney (Alyah Chanelle Scott), and Kimberly (Pauline Chalamet) are reunited for another round of debauchery, self-exploration, and on-the-nose class commentary. Where the first season saw the roommates reluctantly warm to each other despite vastly different identities and wealth categories (who among us hasn’t dealt with their own Kimberly, a well-meaning white girl from a small town whose arrival at college is also her first exposure to the idea of “diversity”), the show’s second season finds the suitemates bonded as a tightly knit sorority in their own right. Slightly grownup and a little less clueless, the girls prepare to tackle institutions as small as the mostly sexist, mostly racist frats, and as large as the inequality of the student loans office.
Kaur as Bela continues to serve as the show’s comedic backbone, with whip-smart banter and a near endless stream of thirst for the mostly shirtless men on campus (to a student performing a lap dance on a chair: “OK Cody, work it, get that chair pregnant.”) After the quartet gets banned from one of the campus’ most popular frats, Bela proposes they throw their own party: “Now we get to be the power-hungry douchebags. Can’t wait to reject people!” To help gain reentry, she later throws out the idea of a fraternity fundraiser that she describes as a “Magic Mike live strip show, sex positive, female forward entertainment strip-tacular that’s also a fundraiser for climate change.” The spectacle, she says, will feature “tearaway pants, body oil, happy trails both front and back.”
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The AV Club points out that the girls have mostly “white love interests whose bland personalities make it impossible to care for them when compared with the protagonists they’re dating.” And while we could absolutely use more love interests of color, the lackluster white guys the suitemates take interest in also give the audience an opportunity to objectify the male characters in the same way women characters have served as side pieces, romantic interests, and eye candy for decades in pop culture. It’s not executed perfectly, but the intention seems pure. As someone objectified by said frat guys for the entirety of my college experience, it feels like redemption to watch these characters win their affections (not for approval, but for pure pleasure), manipulate their bodies as money-making vehicles, and gaze at them, in some cases, without an ounce of remorse or shame. Frat guys, a hopefully dying breed, aren’t the be-all end-all of women’s desire, of course; but there’s something intoxicating about putting them to use as sometimes lovable, sometimes fuckable props in this show. Or, as Ilia Isorelýs Paulino says at a party, “See that pack of cis daddies right there? I can see every single one of their dick shapes.”
Elsewhere, the show continues to handle Leighton’s personal journey, as she steps into her queerness publicly for the first time with grace and humor. Though she still doesn’t feel comfortable telling her family about her sexuality back on campus, Leighton becomes a certified queer hottie—a literal hot commodity. Kimberly, the only suitemate who finds out in the first season that Leighton is gay, buys her a column of “gay pride” balloons, then panics, asking, “Have I outed you? Am I a bad ally?” Leighton’s coming-out story is nothing but sweet and wholesome, met with emotional support from the girls and encouragement to start sliding into the DMs of other queer women on campus.
Whitney’s storyline continues to revolve around sports, as she navigates her identity in the off-season with humor (“I got hit with a soccer ball so many times I think my titties got CTE”) and honesty—she’s left “feeling lost” as her classmates all seem to have the rest of their lives figured out. Meanwhile, Kimberly continues to be the stand-in for class politics, as she loses her scholarship and attempts to look rich at the financial aid office, because “banks only give money to people who look like they already have money,” per Leighton.
The conversations around allyship and class this season thus far haven’t felt particularly deep, but they do feel authentic and lighthearted, giving us an excuse to laugh at some of the messiness in which we’re all approaching allyship in a shifting social atmosphere. But that doesn’t mean the storylines aren’t funny as fuck: “You’re the climate refugee?” Bela asks a hot newbie, labeled as such because he comes from the tornado-tearing Kansas. “You’re white.”
While I appreciate the show for attempting to tackle the blatant inequalities present in collegiate environments, it’s the unadulterated fun that makes the show worth sticking around for. During an undie run in the snow, we get to see bodies of all shapes and sizes; we get to see Leighton become a respectful fuckboy in her own right, as she clumsily makes her way through the campus’ lesbian population; and we get to see young women behave in an unfiltered, often hypocritical manner, all of which makes us love them more. Whitney, Kimberly, Leighton, and Bela are perfect beacons for the messes in all of our lives: They make me want to be bolder, apologize less, and fail more. And what is a good television show if not a piece of culture that validates our messy selves?