Words by Aleenah Ansari
College was anything but the experience I had seen in television shows and movies—I wasn’t best friends with my first roommate, didn’t join Greek life, and changed my answer almost every time I was asked, “What do you plan to do post-grad?” Most of my time was spent juggling multiple STEM classes as a pre-med student and working on-campus jobs. I had grown up being told that friendships weren’t worth prioritizing, but in hindsight, I couldn’t have gotten by without the support of the people I met who became lifelong confidants, colleagues, mentors, future bridesmaids, and friends for life.
This camaraderie that’s only built over rooming with your best friends and late-night study sessions at the library is at the heart of The Sex Life of College Girls, the HBO Max hit whose second season premieres today. Created by Mindy Kaling and Justin Noble, the show follows four college roommates at fictional Essex College as they navigate new relationships, parties, and predicaments. Between the four of them, they cover a lot of ground: Kimberly (Pauline Chalamet) is a work-study student who’s trying to make sure she can pay for college; Bela (Amrit Kaur) is a sex-positive comedy writer who wants to make the most of her college experience; Whitney is a star soccer player who wants to define herself outside of the sports; and Leighton (Reneé Rapp) is an affluent student from New York who’s still coming out to herself and others.
Considering the external shots of Essex College were filmed at my alma mater, the University of Washington, it was a prerequisite that I felt excited about what this show would hold in its first season—the quad was a familiar location for my friends and I to take annual cherry blossom photoshoots or run into each other. There were a few key distinctions from my own college experience: I went to significantly fewer frat parties, was single for most of college, and often felt like I wasn’t having as much fun in college as everyone else. I entered college thinking the only value was in the grades I earned, but I emerged a more confident and curious human because of everyone I met.
Still, The Sex Lives of College Girls made me nostalgic for a college experience I didn’t even have—a testament to Kaling and her team’s down-to-earth (and hilarious) storytelling. Even amid the stark differences in our experiences, The Sex Life of College Girls tapped into some specific scenarios that really resonated with me: Meeting lifelong friends in your dorm or at parties, finding out who you are beyond sports affiliation or major, finding what you love and want to pursue as a career, embracing our non-linear trajectories, and even suffering from seasonal depression during the darker months, which was definitely relevant for someone living in Seattle. Plus, I approve of the show’s impeccable music taste with artists like Megan Thee Stallion, Doja Cat, and others as a backdrop of the college experience.
Despite its classification as a comedy—and trust me when I say season two will leave you audibly laughing—there were also conversations about microaggressions that sounded all too familiar. Whitney’s TA repeatedly confuses her with the only other Black woman in her class, an all-too-common experience for students of color at predominantly white institutions. She even has to listen to her TA insist that he’s not racist, to which she responds, “I don’t want every conversation to be about my Blackness and your whiteness.” Thankfully, Whitney is able to talk through it with other Black women she trusts, which reminded me of the way that my mentors and colleagues of color would always have my back when people underestimated me or when I dealt with imposter syndrome after landing an internship at Microsoft or winning scholarships for my research.
Throughout the season, I continued to resonate with Leighton as she navigated her own coming out journey and the weight of what others think. I didn’t come out until halfway through college, and it was accidentally: I wrote an article called “I need more than pride flags and rainbow pins to feel represented,” not realizing that this was the equivalent of asserting my queerness to the world. I related to Leighton’s struggle with feeling defined by her sexuality, while still wanting to stay true to herself.
The Sex Life of College Girls excels in season two, largely because it preserves the deep friendships among the four main characters without pitting them against each other, a common trope in television shows centered around young women. It reminded me of the friendships I discovered who encouraged me to bring my whole self to school, and now work, as a queer Pakistani woman. While the show may not always ring true to my own college experience, it feels authentic to the process of discovering what you love and defining success on your own terms, plus meeting those ride-or-die friendships (sometimes against all odds) that will carry you through a lifetime.
Season 2 of The Sex Lives of College Girls is streaming on HBO Max starting November 17 with two weekly episodes airing every Thursday until the finale on December 15.
Published on November 17, 2022
Words by Aleenah Ansari
Aleenah Ansari (she/her) is equal parts storyteller, creative problem solver, and journalist at heart who's rooted in the stories of people behind products, companies, and initiatives. She’s written about travel, entrepreneurship, mental health and wellness, and representation in media for Insider, CNBC, The Seattle Times, Kulfi, and more. You can usually find her searching for murals in Seattle and beyond, reading a book by a BIPOC author, and planning her next trip to New York. Learn more at www.aleenahansari.com.