The Sex Lives of College Girls Premiere Review: “Welcome to Essex” – IGN
The first two episodes will premiere on HBO Max on Thursday, Nov. 18.
Following in HBO’s tradition of greenlighting series that reveal the sexual habits of the current generation of young women to the masses — Girls, Insecure, Euphoria — HBO Max’s The Sex Lives of College Girls aims to do the same by charting the campus exploits of four disparate roomies attending the fictional Essex College in Vermont. What follows is perfectly warm and funny, although a bit less compelling than its predecessors.
Created by Mindy Kaling (The Mindy Project) and Justin Noble (Brooklyn Nine-Nine), the duo also wrote the pilot episode, “Welcome to Essex,” which wittily introduces a quad of freshman suite mates as they meet during moving-in day. Kim (Pauline Chalamet), Bela (Amrit Kaur), and Whitney (Alyah Chanelle Scott) are the ethnically, racially, and economically diverse strangers feeling one another out, while Leighton (Reneé Rapp) does her best Karen impression as the legacy placement who’s livid when she’s not rooming with her high school “besties” as planned.
As with most good comedies, it’s all about trope-busting, so all four girls have their unexpected background twists. Bela’s the horned-up, Indian virgin who is beyond ready to explore outside of her conservative family; Kim is the poor, naive work-study scholarship with a lot to learn, and Whitney is a Black senator’s daughter seeking her own attention as an exceptional soccer player, while also secretly sleeping with her coach. And Leighton’s many withholding issues are at least partially unpeeled and contextualized by an episode-ending reveal.
With exteriors shot on location at Vassar’s campus, the show captures the vibe of life on a venerable campus that’s now populated by a melting pot of faces and experiences. Each of the four leads have a lot of charisma and chemistry as these tentative friends, each executing Kaling and Noble’s fast-paced dialogue with their own sharp timing. Gratefully, the women are playing characters that all have interesting, messy lives outside of the suite. Kim is cluelessly working with non-white students in the coffee bar, while Bela desperately tries to ensure herself a spot in the campus comedy magazine by granting sexual favors, and Leighton reunites with her hottie brother, Nico (Gavin Leatherwood), which is her trusted ear and brutal truth speaker. All of them expand the world of the campus, creating an ensemble of recurring characters that makes the world richer and as realistically connected as any college campus ends up being.
However, if you showed up for the sex in the title, expect a lot of talk about it and the rather tasteful execution of it when it happens. Bela is clearly the most sexually frank of the four, which means she gets a lot of the choicest lines about it. But it’s clear this series is more interested in the comedic side of the deed rather than the explicit side of it, unlike Girls and Euphoria. Those series came out of the gate with full HBO shock and awe, showing the viewers just how the younger generation does the dirty, explicitly. They use the portrayal of sex to test boundaries with the older audiences watching, and to serve as a litmus test for exploring shifting moral boundaries, feminism, and taboos. The Sex Lives of College Girls is almost tame in comparison, but it certainly gives the four ladies somewhere to go as they test their boundaries on all fronts.