The Sex Lives Of College Girls Season 2 Review: Mindy Kaling's Comedy Hits Its Sophomore Stride

Whoever said that you need four years of college to truly find yourself hasn't spent enough time with "The Sex Lives of College Girls." The HBO Max series from Mindy Kaling and Justin Noble only needed 10 episodes to get comfortable with its identity and by its sophomore year, knows itself better than most college graduates. The return to Essex University may mark a new set of problems for suitemates Whitney (Alyah Chanelle Scott), Leighton (Renée Rapp), Bela (Amrit Kaur), and Kimberly (Pauline Chalamet) but no such turmoil is plaguing the series as a whole. Instead, it has settled neatly into its rhythms, embraced its characters, and found a nice balance between its subversive nature and lighthearted comedy. 

Honestly, "Sex Lives" knew itself pretty well from the start: a fun romp about the sexual exploits of four college roommates. In typical coming-of-age fashion, the story was messy and drowning in cliches. But it was also earnest, hilarious and so very likable. So going into its second season, this wasn't the kind of show in desperate need of revamping, but it still suffered some serious growing pains the first time around. The half-hour comedy took time to find its footing and shed some of the lackluster storylines that kicked it off. 

The second outing is a big improvement upon the first, relishing in the dynamic that makes everything come together. A marriage of sharp writing and excellent casting is what makes this show such a joy as season 2 shifts gears into a more character-driven path. Where this show once felt the need to bombard us with explosive developments (Cheating scandal! Affair with a teacher! Multiple forbidden romances!), we now get more time to sit with the everyday drama of life on a college campus. I wouldn't say that hanging with these four Essex girls is "relaxing" — they make way too many bad decisions for that to be true — but this is still the kind of comfort TV that you'll want to breeze through in a single sitting.

Shaking up the steamy status quo

"The Sex Lives of College Girls" picks up pretty much where it left off. Following Fall break, the girls return to Essex with all sorts of drama to traverse. After jumping ship from The Catullan, Bela is struggling with the creation of her own female-fronted comedy magazine — but in typical Bela fashion, she makes things extra messy by starting a casual fling with "nerd prince" Erik (Mekki Leeper). As the co-editor of the school's premier comedy publication, Erik also doubles as her competition which makes for a complicated dynamic (both in and out of the bedroom).

Elsewhere, newly out-of-the-closet Leighton has some catching up to do and spends her free time sleeping with, I swear, every queer woman on campus. Need I unpack the many drawbacks of this game plan? Luckily, if anyone's composure can withstand the weight of the unending awkwardness this will create, it would be Leighton.

Whitney starts the season with the most stable romantic endeavor of them all — continuing her (still very fresh) relationship with Canaan (Chris Meyer). But that's not all! In the wake of soccer season coming to an end, Whitney is also grappling with every college student's existential nightmare: the question of what she wants to do with her life. Who is she outside of the sport that she came to Essex to play?

Then there's Kimberly, who is saddled with the biggest and most obvious problem of them all. Telling the truth about last season's cheating scandal came at the cost of her financial aid. Her scholarship officially revoked, Kimberly must find a way to pay for college that — in an ideal world — doesn't involve telling her parents about the time she almost got expelled for cheating. Not that they could afford to solve her problem, anyway. Those simple starting points are all we need for an excellent (and once again hilarious) season of TV.  After all, why overcomplicate something so close to perfect? 

The more things change ...

The real draw of "Sex Live" has always been watching these personalities interact and the series certainly doesn't disappoint. While we certainly watch the girls grow as the season progresses, some things have a way of staying the same: we can always count on Bela to spice things up as the resident horndog, Kimberly to make any given conversation as awkward as humanly possible, Whitney to spiral out after hours of overthinking, and Leighton to handle her interpersonal relationships so poorly that it hurts to watch. But where would we be if those things weren't still true?

Speaking of change, the season involves a couple of other complications: thanks to Kimberly going all whistle-blower on the cheating situation, Theta Pi Delta have declared war against the girls for getting their charter suspended. This ends up putting a serious damper on their social lives, barring them from frat parties but paving the way for free time spent in other, interesting ways. Also, a new extremely muscular guy has arrived to take the place of Nico, the Gavin Leatherwood character written out when the actor departed between seasons. Through Jackson (Mitchell Slaggert) we get a condensed rehash of Kimberly's season 1 romance: she is attracted to him, antagonizes him then realizes that the hot guy also has *gasp* emotional depth.

Friendship is the magic ingredient

Ultimately, the Jackson storyline is perfectly adequate. Kimberly's flirtation with Nico was nice and all, but it speaks volumes that he can be plucked out of this show, and replaced by a buffer substitute without the story missing a beat. His absence doesn't even put a wrinkle in Leighton's story — her brother no longer being in attendance just means we have more time to watch the other girls melt their ice queen's heart. This is how the show proves that it has grown. All of the nitpicky annoyances of the first season — Whitney's bland affair with her soccer coach and Kimberly's by-the-numbers romance with Nico — have been smoothed over in favor of more interesting storylines. And even those don't pull focus away from the main event: watching the four-way friendship shine and anchor the girls throughout all of their many, many crises. 

If you search the recesses of your memory, then you might recall a time when Leighton wasn't thrilled to discover roommates who were wide-eyed and earnest about their incoming college days. But now she's one of them — finally letting her exterior fall and becoming more comfortable in her own skin. And if Leighton has come around, then it's official: these girls bring out the best in each other. Their friendship has blossomed and it's impossible to remember a time before the stresses of college had bonded them together.

A bright future for the girls of Essex

The magic of "Sex Lives" is that it's both familiar and refreshing. At one point, I found myself astonished and wondering, "did this teen comedy just settle a relationship issue with a mature conversation?" And it did! Don't get me wrong, that relationship continues its painful spiral downwards, but not in the sitcom-y sort of way where an increasingly ridiculous series of events escalate things to a breaking point. Mistakes buildup over time. The girls let communication failures and insecurity get the best of them. Andy yes, ridiculously specific scenarios do occur, but all of that drama is rooted in very human emotions.

That this show shares key members of its creative team with Netflix's "Never Have I Ever" tells us that it could dig deeper, but opts to be breezy and a little slight. Don't get me wrong — I'd watch 50 more episodes of this show as-is in a heartbeat (HBO Max don't you dare take this away from us). But just as the second season course corrects the mistakes of the first, this might be a little something to consider for the future.

There's a reason that Leighton coming out to Kimberly was one of season 1's biggest highlights: it was so emotionally raw that it caught us off-guard. More of that, please! This is the kind of show that can break our hearts with a dorm room confession, voicing internalized homophobia through the sobs of an identity crisis! This is also the kind of show with glossy, neon-tinted montages of college girls slamming back clearance-aisle wine coolers! Sometimes the girls pause for an emotional moment of self-discovery and other times, they host a Magic Mike tribute show that concludes with complimentary lap dances. If "The Sex Lives of College Girls" keeps pushing boundaries, then heartfelt confessions and college-sponsored strip shows can co-exist. But if not, then the college comedy remains a perfectly bingeable endeavor.

Season 2 of "The Sex Lives of College Girls" begins streaming on November 17 with two episodes debuting on HBO Max. The season will continue with two new episodes weekly, leading up to the season finale on December 15, 2022.