Bitch Magnets, Splashy Parties and Class Divides: How ‘Sex Lives of College Girls’ Raises the Stakes in Its Sophomore Season

The first season of HBO Max’s “The Sex Lives of College Girls,” created by Mindy Kaling and Justin Noble, introduced viewers to the chaotic world of Leighton (Reneé Rapp), Bela (Amrit Kaur), Whitney (Alyah Chanelle Scott) and Kimberly (Pauline Chalamet), freshmen at the fictional Essex College who find themselves placed together in a suite despite their contrasting — and often contradictory — personalities.

Aspects of each character serve as foil for the others. In the first season, Leighton uses her WASP-like snobbery to obscure her queerness, the result of which is a seeming prudishness that runs counter to Bela’s MO, which is to have as much sex as possible. Bela wants to make a name for herself in comedy, despite the rampant sexism she encounters trying to break into the industry — an ambition distinctly different from soccer star Whitney’s lack of interest towards anything school-related, save sports. But while Whitney is prodded by her politician mother to think of her future, Kimberly, a scholarship student from Arizona, is simply trying to survive her present by maintaining her scholarship status and staying in school.

Below, the creators and cast of “The Sex Lives of College Girls” tease to Variety the ways in which each character evolves in the second season of the HBO Max comedy show. 

Whitney finds her identity in an unexpected place 

“[Our show has] a lot of splashy parties, people go to naked parties where genitalia is flopping around,” Noble said. “But we also want to tell a story about someone finding themselves in ways they wouldn’t have foreseen for themselves. Soccer is all that Whitney has known. She’s done this for hundreds of hours a week, and then when that’s gone, she has a huge void that she has to fill.”

Whitney fills the void via an unlikely place: the classroom. It’s a development that Scott said “thrilled” her. “Secretly, I was like, this is great, because my mom will love this. My mom is an engineer, so I was like, ‘Here, Mom. This is for you.’ I felt like I was channeling her.”

Bela is driven to succeed — by any means necessary

Bela’s efforts to break into comedy, most directly through Essex’s comedy paper “The Catullan,” are often hampered by misogynistic attempts to sabotage or belittle her talent and drive. In the first season, Bela is sexually assaulted by a senior editor at “The Catullan,” after which she decides to quit and start her own female comedy magazine on campus. This decision, though, brings a whole new set of challenges. Kaur said she drew inspiration in those situations from her “own personal journey.”

“She’s going through the blocks, she has to deal with sexual assault, she has to deal with jealousy, and as a result of dealing with that, her coping mechanism is, ‘I’m going to be the boss,’” Kaur said. “As a result, she ends up hurting her closest people. These are all things I’ve experienced, and so I’ve tried as an actor to give my personalization to Bela to make it more human.” 

Leighton becomes a “bitch magnet” 

After weeks of hiding her clandestine love affairs with women she meets on a dating app, Reneé Rapp’s character Leighton officially comes out to her roommate Kimberly at the end of Season 1. Though as of the first season finale, her character hasn’t yet come out to the rest of her roommates, Rapp said that her favorite part of playing Leighton in Season 2 was “watching her own her sexuality in really uncomfortable shitty situations.” The trailer sees Leighton kiss several women in a classic montage sequence, giving a glimpse into the character’s evolution. 

“Girl is a bitch magnet,” Rapp told Variety. “She’s just so committed to everything she does and so carefree in that way that it’s really endearing, no matter how naïve she is.” 

For Kimberly, the stakes are higher than ever 

Variety TV critic Caroline Framke noted in her review of Season 1 that “Kimberly’s attempts to fit in at Essex as a scholarship kid surrounded by private school legacy students… deftly gets at a class divide issue many high school shows (including ‘Gossip Girl’) struggle to articulate half as well.” This is a conflict that continues in Season 2 — albeit with higher stakes, because Kimberly has lost her scholarship as a result of a cheating scandal in the first season. 

The way she decides to earn her tuition of $42,000 might come as a shock. Chalamet said that the choice “made [her] realize how high the stakes of staying in school were for Kimberly.” 

“This is what she’s willing to do after having exhausted so many other options,” she said. “It just really made me realize how desperately Kimberly wanted to stay in school that she was willing to entertain such a serious decision.” 

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