The Sex Lives of College Girls is taking viewers back to the days of dorms, one-night stands, and dining hall chats, but most of all, it’s delivering plenty of laughs thanks to co-creators Mindy Kaling and Justin Noble.
The HBO Max comedy follows the trials and tribulations of four freshman girls and roommates who despite their differences find a mutual connection amid one of the most pivotal times in their lives. It’s with Kaling and Noble’s writing that these complex women come to life with all their flaws, secrets, and hilarious freshman blunders.
Catching up with the creatives, Kaling and Noble open up about their process of exploring college as a coming-of-age story setting, their inspirations for the characters and storylines, and much more.
Justin Noble and Mindy Kaling with the cast of The Sex Lives of College Girls (Credit: Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images)
What made you decide to tell this coming-of-age story from the perspective of college students?
Mindy: Justin and I went to East Coast colleges and had an incredible experience there and remembered it vividly. And I was excited to create a college TV show that was from the perspective of young women. When I was growing up in the ’80s and ’90s, there were college things, but it was Animal House or from the point of view of guys and frats. And I liked those movies, [but] I just wanted to do something that felt a little bit closer to home.
Justin: The thing that most excited me was the idea of creating a show with someone like Mindy. Mindy could have called and been like, “I want to do a show about a group of wood chips,” and I would’ve been like, “I love wood chips. Let’s do it.” But also, like Mindy’s saying, just a chance to explore that period of time and to go back into our own nostalgia and foray through it for things to be inspired by felt really fun.
(Credit: HBO Max)
You worked on Never Have I Ever together, did that have any influence on your approach to writing this series?
Mindy: Well, I met Justin on Never Have I Ever, and I had only heard of him before, because we have mutual friends at Brooklyn Nine-Nine where he’d worked for years. What was so great about him is that in Never Have I Ever, he just loved writing for this young Indian girl who’s just really horny. And I was very impressed that someone like Justin would just want to do that. He’s so good at writing female voices that are distinct and flawed and not boring. And so it felt like in launching this new show with so many female characters that he would just do an amazing job at that. And he did. He loves women and loves hearing them talk to each other so it was a good decision. I’m smart [Laughs].
Justin: I can’t handle hearing that many compliments. Mindy’s the smartest writer of all time. It’s infuriating. She always knows the right thing to say or pitch. And I do love women. I just only love them platonically.
(Credit: HBO Max)
The girls at the center of this series — Kimberly (Pauline Chalamet), Bela (Amrit Kaur), Whitney (Alyah Chanelle Scott), and Leighton (Reneé Rapp) — are all distinctly different, but they also have the commonality of secrets. What inspired their stories?
Mindy: Justin talks a lot about how this is such a unique time in people’s lives because you are randomly assigned to live with people that you could hate or like. And so what a great opportunity as show creators to come up with four completely distinct characters. What they have in common besides their secrets, which I think is so well observed, is that they have these big personalities and big wants. One writes to write on SNL. One wants to become the next Ruth Bader Ginsberg. One wants to be the queen of Kappa and run the social scene at the school. And so that makes them really funny and juicy to write for, and also their conflicts with each other. Making sure that we had empathy and love for each of the characters, we really see what they’re like when they’re vulnerable.
Justin: Yeah, and that vulnerability is earned in an authentic way in the real world because these characters are 18 years old, going away to college for the first time, and being away from mom and dad. I think so many college students have the attitude of like, “Oh, I’ve got this. I can handle anything.” And then life pretty quickly knocks you down. So, making sure they all had challenges and things that they had to depend on each other for, but that camaraderie isn’t there from day one. So you have to build up those relationships before you really have an ally to help you through your own struggles.
(Credit: HBO Max)
College is an ever-changing experience. Did you talk to the cast or any current students to mine ideas?
Mindy: It was really important for Justin and me to get it right. We didn’t want people to watch this and just be like, “who are these boomers who wrote this show that does not reflect what college is now?” So we took a really fun trip at the beginning of March last year, a week before the world shut down. We went to Dartmouth and Yale to interview people, meet tons of young women, and just find out about everything. When I was going to school, it’s not like we announced our pronouns. So that was just one detail of hundreds of things that we picked up by actually meeting young people.
Justin: And having that young cast was so fun and interesting because it’s something I’ve never experienced before. They were a test audience. So I would go to set and if a joke wasn’t totally working, I would be standing there thinking, “Oh my God, I have to change this. What’s going to make Reneé laugh? What’s going to make Alyah laugh?” And chase their taste at times to make sure I was being accurate to this current generation. I will never forget a moment when I went up to Chris Meyer who plays Canaan on the show, and I was giving him a line. He was like, “Is there a way I could say that, but cooler?” And I was like, “Oh my God, however, you would word it is absolutely fine.” I think I was probably trying too hard.
Was there a scene or moment that you had the most fun crafting?
Mindy: I think because I’m repressed, the sex stuff was really fun and titillating and just interesting anthropologically to see. Justin literally went to a naked party at Yale, that was pulled from his life. It seems like the kind of thing if we pitched it, you’d be like, “That’s too broad. No one’s having naked parties.” But he went to one. So that was fun. And I didn’t have these adventures in college. I was way too shy, hated my body, and all that stuff. So being able to see these characters that are bolder than me and making different decisions than me just feels nice to write.
Justin: Also the nostalgic elements of what things happen in college where it reminds you in the audience like, “Oh my God, I went through that.” One of my favorites is our parent’s weekend episode where all the parents came back and Mindy had this amazing idea to write a dinner where all of the parents are there. And we’re seeing how much these girls have changed, but it’s over five weeks because everything in college feels so severe. Seeing that [change] over such a short period of time you begin to see yourself as a completely different and fully grown adult and that felt exciting. And I think the episode turned out to be one of our absolute favorites.
The Sex Lives of College Girls, Series Premiere, Thursday, November 18, HBO Max