In just five short weeks, Season 2 of HBO Max’s comedy The Sex Lives of College Girls has come to an end with Episodes 9 and 10. It’s tough to follow up a freshman season as delightful as Sex Lives’ first, and Season 2 certainly tried, but the moments where it shined the most were its heavier storylines—just like Season 1’s poignant and moving final episodes that featured a drama focus. Yes, Sex Lives is hilarious, but the stories that it could have told far outshine any amount of sex jokes made throughout the season, if the show simply had the time to explore them. Season 2’s finale, which featured a number of last-minute shake-ups that has all our brains reeling, proved that The Sex Lives of College Girls should embrace the drama going forward.
This season was tumultuous for all our favorite roomies: Leighton (Reneé Rapp) came out to her friends, her peers, and finally her family; Kimberly (Pauline Chalamet) dealt with her lost scholarship by donating her eggs for cash; Whitney (Alyah Chanelle Scott) was forced to reckon with a life outside of soccer and found her true calling; Bela (Amrit Kaur) started her own comedy magazine to deal with the trauma she faced at the Catullan. Though, things are kicked up to the nth degree in the final two episodes, which see Kimberly realizing her feelings for (and kissing!) Whitney’s ex-boyfriend Canaan, Leighton ditching the sorority (and new girlfriend Tatum) to rejoin the Women’s Center crew and reunite with Alicia, Whitney taking Leighton’s place in the sorority (after seeing Kimberly kissing Canaan), and Bela being exiled from her own magazine and requesting to transfer to another college. Whew!
All of these plot points are catalysts for incredible drama, but the series’ comedy focus causes all of them to pile up in these final two episodes, feeling completely out of the blue in comparison to the previous eight. With Kimberly, her feelings for Canaan seem sudden and out of left field, especially after a majority of the series’ 30-minute, 10-episode season featured her courting their new neighbor Jackson. By throwing Kimberly with Canaan in the eleventh hour of the season, it feels more like a plot device to separate the roomies rather than a culmination of a blossoming love story (as the Shawn Mendes-serenaded kiss scene attempted to communicate). Even beyond her treatment in the finale, Kimberly’s story of financial hardship being solved by the donation of her eggs was simply breezed past as well, with the show not taking the screentime to properly examine how this choice might have impacted Kimberly’s relationship with the school and with her body. Sex Lives’ most interesting plots get buried beneath the jokes, and while the series is a comedy, there are more interesting stories they could be telling if given the proper chance.
Similarly to Kimberly, Whitney’s finale shocker comes out of the blue as well. After seeing Canaan kissing Kimberly, she decides to become the social chair of Kappa, taking Leighton’s spot and room within the sorority house—effectively blowing up the roomies’ plan to live together again in the coming semester and silently ending her friendship with Kimberly. Though, this storyline would have been much more impactful had Sex Lives focused more on Canaan and Whitney’s breakup rather than throwing Whitney with the jerky guy from her science class just a few episodes after she was dumped. While there are a few sparse moments sprinkled throughout the season that show Whitney missing Canaan, their few interactions scream amicability, and this final revelation that their relationship will now become a love triangle deserved more time to come to fruition—or, frankly, not come to fruition at all.
More than any of our central characters, Bela had the most difficult storyline this season. Her assault and grand exit from the Catullan from the end of Season 1 left her attempting to emulate the callousness and meanness she saw in action within that magazine and in the professional comedy world at large. Multiple times throughout the season she betrayed her own morals, her boyfriend, and her peers at her new comedy magazine, always putting her own ego, feelings, and future above others. In Episode 10, Bela finally gets the call-out she admittedly deserves, in the form of a girl who simply wanted comedy advice from Bela, but is told instead that she should quit comedy because she sucks. She’s promptly “canceled” and then kicked out of her own magazine, ending the season with a request to transfer to another school. The series does not take (or have) the time within this second season to really explore her behavior or the root cause of it, especially when she is the main source of comic relief in the group roommate scenes. Her friends laugh with her, facilitating her journey down this path. Instead, she is left with an eleventh hour realization, ending the season on a massive cliffhanger of self-hatred that she chooses to keep from her roommates.
Leighton arguably (maybe even objectively) had the best overall storyline this season, as she slowly but surely became more and more confident in herself and her sexuality. Each episode opened up a new door for our favorite bitchy blonde, with the early episodes focusing on Leighton’s relationship with her roommates and herself, finally coming out to those closest to her on campus. Then, the later episodes introduced “doppelbanger” Tatum, who stepped in to help Leighton heal from the wounds inflicted by her ex-but-now-current-girlfriend Alicia, being incredibly supportive of Leighton’s hesitation and closeted status. In fact, it’s that casual support from Tatum that allows Leighton to come out to her father in Episode 8, marking another incredible coming out scene for the series.
However, even she was not free from the final episodes’ bloodthirst. Leighton’s decision to randomly return to the Women’s Center (a place that was never mentioned the entire season, with characters that Leighton never once seemed to miss) and unceremoniously dump Tatum for acting just as she had during Season 1 felt just as sudden as her roommates’ storylines. The abrupt switch from Leighton’s father telling her that she “smiles with her teeth” around Tatum to Leighton letting her storm out of the party is jarring, and shows the cracks within the unique type of impatient storytelling that seems to happen within Sex Lives’ penultimate and final episodes. In Episode 10, Leighton gets back together with Alicia, a sudden move that undercuts Leighton’s season-long journey, especially as her former ex-girlfriend is crawling back to her now that Leighton is in a more tolerable, not-closeted state. Again, just like Whitney, Kimberly, and Bela, the finale’s curveball for Leighton suffered from the series’ episodic restrictions. If Sex Lives had taken the time to show Leighton missing the Women’s Center or show Tatum in an unflattering light more often than a single instance in a single episode (especially when she had been nothing but supportive and kind in contrast to Alicia’s behavior in Season 1), the sudden swing back to Alicia would have been much easier to swallow. And now that the series has been renewed for Season 3, hopefully Sex Lives will slow down, and who knows, maybe that’s not the last we will see of Tatum after all (I would love a sapphic love triangle, what can I say).
Each of these stories deserved much more time than 10 episodes allowed, as the entire Internet has been shouting since the end of Season 1 (every other tweet under the SLOCG tag on Twitter seems to be asking for 20-episode seasons). Though, if the streaming overlords refuse to expand this show, then the creative team behind The Sex Lives of College Girls should consider a structure change, one that would embrace more dramatic stories, helping to avoid the plot pileups that continues to plague this show. These storylines prove that buried within The Sex Lives of College Girls is a teen drama, one that can and should rival the likes of Gossip Girl and other staples, but the series’ truncated seasons and short, 30-minute episodes stunt those storylines’ growth, resulting in half-baked cliffhangers that promise to be resolved should the spirit move those at HBO Max to continue to support this show (and not completely delete it from the platform instead).
Of course, this is not my call to remove any and all comedy from the show, but simply move the series in the direction of the character-driven drama it naturally gravitates towards in its final episodes anyway. Simply extending that drama and touch of seriousness to the previous eight episodes would still result in a laugh-out-loud season, just one that has the space and sincerity to support its dramatics. After all, with the roomies’ lives imploding and their friend group teetering on the edge, there is no more natural progression than a more dramatic turn heading into Season 3.
Anna Govert is an entertainment writer based in middle-of-nowhere Indiana. For any and all thoughts about TV, film, and the wonderful insanity of Riverdale, you can follow her @annagovert
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