Pick of the Day: “The Sex Lives of College Girls”

“The Sex Lives of College Girls” isn’t nearly as raunchy as its eye-catching title suggests. The HBO Max comedy is unapologetically horny, yes, and considerably more invested in what its four leads are learning in bedrooms as opposed to lecture halls, but its driving force is exploring sex and sexuality rather than depicting it.

From creators Mindy Kaling and Justin Noble, the series is set at a prestigious New England college and follows four roommates: Kimberly (Pauline Chalamet), an earnest and sheltered scholarship student who is struggling to fit in with her wealthy peers; Bela (Amrit Kaur), a self-described “extremely sex positive” Indian-American comedy fanatic who is lying to her parents about majoring in molecular biology; Leighton (Reneé Rapp), a rich, Regina George-type legacy student who reeks of privilege but is struggling inwardly; and Whitney (Alyah Chanelle Scott), a famous senator’s daughter who is trying to carve out her own identity as a star soccer player.

I plowed through the six episodes made available to press, and very much enjoyed hanging with the foursome at the center of the show. Still, some characters are better developed than others. Bela is a fully-formed, delightful weirdo, a former nerd and aspiring comedy writer who is basking in her new life sans braces, obsessed with abs and acquiring as much sexual experience as quickly as possible, and determined to land a spot on a male-dominated comedy magazine on campus. Whitney has considerably less to do. The bulk of her screentime is devoted to an all-too-familiar storyline about the teen’s inappropriate relationship with an authority figure, one that does nothing to subvert clichés, and equally frustratingly, is dull.

I’m also hopeful that the show will get a little more explicit. For all of its frank jokes and discussions about desire, so far, the comedy hasn’t really dealt directly with the ever-persistent orgasm gap or even masturbation, major themes in most college students’ lives.

Full of cringe comedy and warmth, “The Sex Lives of College Girls” left me wanting more. TV is and has been full of stories about highschoolers, but audiences haven’t spent nearly as much time watching drama unfold on college campuses. We’re being introduced to Kimberly, Bela, Leighton, and Whitney as they discover, re-discover, and decide who they want to be outside of their parents’ households, and while their sex lives play a role in their coming-of-age stories, their identities– and the show — are about so much more, not least of which is their burgeoning friendship.

“The Sex Lives of College Girls” is now streaming on HBO Max.

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