SPOILER ALERT: This post contains plot details from the first two episodes of The Sex Lives of College Girls Season 2
After a year-long hiatus, The Sex Lives of College Girls has returned to HBO Max, but not that much time has passed for the students at Essex College. After the quick reprieve of fall break, Kimberly (Pauline Chalamet), Leighton (Reneé Rapp), Bela (Amrit Kaur) and Whitney (Alyah Chanelle Scott) are back on campus to finish their first semester with a newfound sense of assurance that only comes from spending a few months floundering.
“I think that there’s just such a confidence that comes with settling in at a new place. They’ve grown a little bit as a family and they’re ready to make some changes towards who they’re going to be as individuals,” series co-creator Justin Noble told Deadline. “There’s so much evolution that happens very quickly over the first year when you leave your parents’ home and go away to school for the first time.”
When we meet the four women again, Kimberly has just driven 39 hours in a minivan to be reunited with her suite mates — two of whom are so rich that, when Bela suggests maybe they could help pay for Kimberly to stay at Essex after losing her scholarship, their responses are: “We’re politician rich” and “Most of my family’s wealth is tied up in real estate and several race horses.”
“You guys don’t need to make your rich families sound poor. I would never ask either of you for money,” Kimberly quips back.
In so many ways, the interaction sums up the essence of the series. As Noble puts it: “The idea that Kimberly had to be in a minivan for that many hours and Leighton owns a lot of race horses, that’s the seed of what their dynamic is like at these institutions. You have people coming from such different backgrounds, they would never have found each other on the street and decided to be roommates together.”
So much of the series is inspired by Noble and his co-creator Mindy Kaling‘s own college experience, which is why they decided to slow things down, rather than follow the typical pacing of a series set in high school or college, where each season represents a year in the life. No time has passed between Seasons 1 and 2, because “there’s a huge difference between September of your first year in school, and then November onward, so we wanted to explore that.”
While Kimberly is figuring out how to drum up $138,000, she’s also fighting (or falling in love) with the hot, new climate refugee from Kansas who lives down the hall. Bela is busy forming her own amateur comedy magazine that she thinks is going to make or break her career (“That’s a true feeling that I sadly relate to and look back on and cringe,” Noble joked) and toying with the idea of monogamy. Whitney is struggling to define her relationship with Canaan (Christopher Meyer) and find another passion now that the soccer season has ended.
Leighton has now told all of her suite mates about her sexuality and is no longer having an affair with a rich, suburban mom, which has freed her up for some sexual exploration with people her own age. It may take her some time, but Noble insists that she’s on her way to becoming the “proud lesbian boss on campus that Leighton Murray was so clearly always destined to be.”
Just as the characters are approaching this next season of life with a little more confidence than the last, so did the writers, who were able to lean into the naturally developed chemistry between their four leads to heighten the hilarity of campus life.
“We learned so much just by seeing how our cast embodies these characters. It’s so easy to assume what might make sense for a character on paper but once you take it to the table, you see the way that one of the performers embodies it. You can be inspired to go in a completely different direction,” Noble said.
Take, for example, a fleeting moment in Episode 2 where Whitney, who is the daughter of a politician, becomes visibly distressed while looking at her phone and Kimberly asks, “Oh, God. Did your mom get assassinated?” It’s a joke that would only land with Chalamet’s portrayal of the character, Noble explained.
“I remember writing that very, very late at night in my office when I was just writing the outline for that episode and it really made me laugh,” he said. “Pauline came in with these very specific embodiments of [the joke] that inspired us to tweak it a little bit. I can just hear her saying that line and so earnestly believing it and going to this place of anxiety that I relate to from my middle class upbringing, where my mom answers the phone every day, like ‘What’s wrong?’”
That baseline level of anxiety is also why Kimberly refuses to tell her parents that she lost her scholarship, for fear of burdening them even further, which is reflective of the “true hardships that exist for people who are underwater financially when they’re trying to stay in an institution like this when the cost is exorbitant.”
“Kimberly is going to try a couple different things to try to make good on her status after her scholarship has been revoked. Some of the first attempts she makes are going to be the easier ones that maybe haven’t quite panned out as we’ve seen so far in the first two episodes, and she’s going to have to start getting more creative,” Noble teased.
As they work through their own problems, the four women are also bonded by their collective experience as roommates. In Season 2, they’re trying everything they can to get back into the fraternities’ good graces after exposing Theta Pi Delta’s cheating scandal, which includes organizing a Magic Mike-inspired strip show. For charity, of course.
A combination of hilarious and heartbreaking, the experiences of these four women could likely never exist cohesively outside of a college campus, where everything feels like the end of the world and compartmentalization is the key to survival.
“The thing that I always heard when I wanted to do a show about college was a lot of people would say, ‘Well, there’s no stakes because college is just a time where you let go and you learn. You’re in an incubator.’ I always disagreed because stakes are relative to a character and no one cares more about the stakes of their situation than someone who has their entire life ahead of them and anything can derail it,” Noble said.
But, no matter what their passage into adulthood throws at them, audiences can be assured that all these mishaps will only bring Leighton, Whitney, Bela and Kimberly closer together.
As the old saying goes: “You never know what someone else is going through, unless you’re sharing a suite with them at college and then you probably hear about it several times a day.”