‘The Sex Lives of College Girls’: Horniness And Bad-Decision Making Glorified In The Best Way Possible
By: Ramya Kumar
Mindy Kaling’s brilliance paired with the talent of award-winning writer Justin Noble – strikes again with another masterfully crafted romantic comedy TV show The Sex Lives of College Girls. The new HBO Max show features the aspects of girlhood in the U.S. that are so rarely realistically depicted in mainstream media: roommate dynamics in college, sex in college, relationships in college, bad-decision making in college, and overall, existence in college. For too long, stories following the formation of friendships, romantic relationships, drugs, alcohol, and coming-of-age plots have centred people in high school – particularly white people in high school.
From Superbad to Ladybird, movies that provide enjoyable, entertaining characters and plots of awkward sex, behaviours under the influence of alcohol (amongst other things), and young adults making truly terrible decisions all feature characters who are 18 years old or younger, and from the typical middle-class white background.
The Sex Lives of College Girls finally breaks this mould and presents us with the hilarious, romantic (sometimes unfortunate) and wonderfully entertaining coming-of-age stories of Essex College Bela Malhotra (Amrit Kaur), Leighton Murray (Reneé Rapp), Whitney Chase (Alyah Scott), and Kimberly Finkle (Pauline Chalamet). Each main character has a background that sets them aside from the coming-of-age characters that Hollywood has been long acquainted with, particularly Whitney and Bela.
Whitney Chase, skillfully played by Alyah Scott, is a Black American girl who is a star soccer player and the daughter of famous Senator Evette Chase. Audiences dive head-first into Whitney’s drama; in the first few minutes of the series, we see her sleeping with the assistant coach of her soccer team, a man who we later find out has been married, a fact he conveniently forgot to mention to Whitney for the entire duration of their relationship. Whitney goes on to casually hook up with a few other boys before forming, what seems to be, a semi-permanent romance with Cannan, a boy with who she had a one-night stand at the beginning of the season. Whitney’s encounters with boys are usually awkward, fueled by making decisions while inebriated, not always handled with maturity, and that is the beauty of her story.
Hollywood rarely allows Black girls to retain their youth in TV shows and movies; they seldom get to be unabashedly carefree and selfish. There are very few shows and movies that show Black girls having the character development of a typical college student who makes mistakes and grows because of them. Hollywood needs more characters like Whitney, a character whose experiences are not negatively defined by her race and – in the words of Scott- gets to be “a Black girl who has awkward, messy sexual moments”; her lovable personality and the laughably immature way she finds her footing as a freshman in college, adjusting to the highs and lows of her soccer team dynamics, navigating college hookup culture, and continuing the journey to adulthood is what makes her a stand-out character on television right now.
Bela Malhotra, an Indian-American character whose personality is quintessentially written-by-Mindy-Kaling, attends Essex under the guise of studying “the sciences” on her path to becoming a doctor when in reality she intends to focus her academic and professional efforts on becoming a comedy writer at Essex’s famous comedy magazine, The Catullan. Bela begins college fresh off a round of Accutane, clinical treatments for excessive sweating, newfound confidence in her body, and “ready to smash some Ds”. Due to the eerily specific similarities between myself and Bela (I am also a proud owner of a giant Seth Meyers poster), I found it hard to evaluate her character objectively, but even after doing my best to strip away my emotional attachment to her, I found Bela to be another incredible Mindy-Kaling-created character that breaks new grounds for Brown women.
Brown women in Hollywood thus far have had minimal representation, and within this representation, they have seldom been able to be outwardly expressive about their sexual desires. Even rarer are instances in which Desi women on-screen act on these desires and get to learn from their actions. Bela Malhotra is the only Indian girl in Hollywood who is shown experiencing the tumultuous ups and downs of sex in college and proudly owning her sexuality. She begins the season by being “super sex-positive, in theory, more than in experience”, and by the end of it, her sexual encounters are numerous and varied in type; she navigates them with recklessness, horniness, and as much grace as she can muster. Bela is by no means a role model for proper behaviour, but that very lack of filter and rambunctiousness that audiences have come to appreciate about many of Mindy Kaling’s characters is what makes Bela so purely enjoyable to watch and love.
The Sex Lives of College Girls is HBO’s best new show of 2021. Its purposeful representation of a multitude of identities, great performances, and well-crafted writing in its first season has already made it a high calibre comedy. The show’s hilarious attention to detail when depicting aspects of college life add to its appeal for college students: awkward silences at parents’ weekend dinners, forced attendances at low-quality acapella performances, the burden of cleaning up after the messy roommate.
The writer’s ability to craft characters that the audience finds themselves rooting for because of their flaws and expertly freshly execute age-old romance tropes is reflected in the heartfelt way the college identities of Bela, Whitney, Leighton, and Kimberly are shaped. The show’s and characters’ potentials to continue improving and growing are limitless, and I cannot contain my excitement for the confirmed season 2!