Messy is normal in Mindy Kaling’s ‘The Sex Lives of College Girls’
Mindy Kaling wants young women watching her new show to be more relaxed about sex than she was.
“I am repressed. I grew up repressed,” the 42-year-old actress and producer said. “But I don’t want to watch repressed people. It doesn’t feel modern for girls to have that same attitude toward sex.”
So Kaling created “The Sex Lives of College Girls” along with co-producer Justin Noble. The comedy, on HBO Max, follows four freshmen randomly assigned to live together at the fictional Essex College, a quintessential New England liberal arts school.
Together, aloof New Yorker Leighton (Renee Rapp), jock Whitney (Alyah Chanelle Scott), aspiring comedian Bela (Amrit Kaur) and sweet but naive Kimberly (Pauline Chalamet) try to figure out the next stage of their lives.
“College is really being dropped into a city full of people with totally different backgrounds, who come from totally different spaces with their own sets of beliefs that make you challenge and question your own,” Scott said. “You don’t know who you are at 18. No one does.”
“The Sex Lives of College Girls,” like its title not-so-subtly implies, is more concerned about extracurriculars than midterms. It’s about wanting sex, having sex and regretting sex.
“Sex is so much more than the act,” Chalamet, sister of star Timothee Chalamet, said. “It’s everything before and everything after.”
By design, the sex isn’t always great. More often, it’s not even on the table as much as the perpetually horny Bela searches for it. On the cold, brick campus of Essex, which Kaling described as a Northeast Hogwarts, it’s all messy.
It’s realistic about college. Students have sex with people who are right for them and wrong for them, strangers and The One.
“It’s like a love letter to that period in our lives … that period of time when you’re 18 to 21 and pretending to know everything that life is going to throw at you,” Noble said.
The humor is in the disorder, but also in the four women — random roommates thrown together by fate or the housing department.
“Even though they fight and have conflict with each other, the one thing that they all have in common is a very frank attitude about sex, even though they approach it really different,” Kaling said. “We want characters that are layered and real and that we love, even if they are flawed.”
Noble conducted research by touring campuses and quizzing college women on what reality looks like for them. Then Noble and Kaling tried to make it universal, to take the stories out of a specific time and place and make them relatable to everyone.
For Kaur, the universality of “The Sex Lives of College Girls” was about showing a world she never got to see before.
“I grew up feeling alone because I didn’t see people who looked like me. I thought Brown people just didn’t have sex,” the Indian-Canadian actress said.
“There are so many different experiences in the Black experience, in the Brown experience, in the Latinx experience, and there are so few of us that we don’t get to see the breadth of that.”
The cast contrasted their show to classics like “The O.C.” and “The Vampire Diaries,” where the romance is messy but the sex is always perfect.
“We’re not living in ‘Bridgerton,’” Rapp said. “Well, maybe you are and that’s great; have fun. But I sure as hell am not. Sex is weird.”
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