In the summer of 2019, a little show called Euphoria dropped on HBO, immediately causing a stir amongst critics and viewers alike, with headlines saying it was “so explicit it makes Skins look positively Victorian,” and asking, “Is Euphoria the most shocking teen show ever?”

But while there was more to the show than just the element of shock, it started an important conversation about how television depicts teenagers, specifically high schoolers.

For years now, the industry has been obsessed with high school-centered dramas that portray graphic sex, partying and scandal amongst characters who are barely old enough to drive. From Gossip Girl to Riverdale, networks continually seek out ways to revamp the same old stories (and usually fill the roles of teenagers with twentysomething actors).

Mindy Kaling's answer to that is The Sex Lives of College Girls, a new comedy series on HBO Max that follows the lives of four women as they begin their undergrad careers and explore a newfound independence. The series, which was created by Kaling and Justin Noble (who worked together on Never Have I Ever), certainly has its own fair share of explicit moments, but it does so from more of an adult perspective, crafting a realistic and laugh-out-loud portrayal of what it is really like to be a college student.

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HBO Max

Sex Lives follows Kimberly (Pauline Chalamet), Bela (Amrit Kaur), Leighton (Reneé Rapp) and Whitney (Alyah Chanelle Scott) as roommates who become unlikely friends during their freshman year at a fictional university in Vermont called Essex College.

One of the most refreshing aspects of the show is its realistic depiction of college life. For instance, the characters actually share reasonable-sized spaces instead of getting their own giant, hotel-like dorm rooms. While they are all excited to party when they first arrive on campus, the show takes moments to reveal that sometimes (gasp!) the students actually have to go to class and study.

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HBO Max

But besides the technical elements, Sex Lives also succeeds in its small moments—like when the girls' freshman dorm has a meeting to discuss all the things they don't want their parents to know when they visit for parents' weekend, or when characters begin exploring their sexual identities and secret interests while on campus. The truth is that for many people, college is a safe haven where they not only get to party and hook up unreservedly, but they also get to explore who they are without fear of being judged or chastised.

Of course, elite colleges have their issues as well, and the series succeeds in pointing out these flaws, too. The character of Kimberly highlights the experience of many poor and working class students who feel overwhelmed at elite institutions overrun with wealthy students. We watch Bela try to get into a prestigious comedy group that is dominated by straight, white men and only “has room” for a certain number of women. Meanwhile, Whitney—a student athlete—becomes irate when she discovers that her team receives far less funding than the boys team (even though they win more of their games).

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HBO Max

All of the more serious themes are balanced with endless humor, like when a couple of the girls attend a “naked party” and their friend tells them to make “micro-glances” at people's butts, or when two of the characters attend a sorority rush event and every member is named Ashley, but spelled in a different way.

If there's one downside to the series, it's that we've seen many of these narratives before. When it's revealed that Whitney is secretly hooking up with her assistant coach, or when Kimberly begins to develop a crush on Leighton's older brother, we can't help but feel like we've seen this play out on Pretty Little Liars or Degrassi.

But in the end, what makes The Sex Lives of College Girls so compelling is that this perspective still feels fresh. Instead of trying to rush teens into adulthood, we're watching college students navigate their sexualities, passions and personal interests, which is true for many freshmen.

Meanwhile, we're following four women as they embrace their sexual desires without feeling shame. We're presented with a diverse cast that does not fall victim to tokenization. These characters are fleshed out. They're messy and human. And our four main leads (all being relatively new names) give winning performances.

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HBO Max

PUREWOW RATING: 4.5 out of 5 stars

All in all, The Sex Lives of College Girls may revisit tropes we've seen before, but the series offers a fresh perspective by giving an honest and accurate portrayal of college life delivered by a stellar cast and buoyed by high-quality writing. Mindy Kaling once again brings unique storytelling to the screen and her female leads continue to be relatable and lovable. In an industry full of high-school centered storytelling, this comedy is exactly what viewers need.

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