The Sex Lives of College Girls is the latest show from genius funny person, Mindy Kaling. It explores four college freshmen roommates as they explore life and sex in an attempt to find themselves. The show is brilliantly written and wildly funny, but the characters are where things truly shine. Unlike fellow HBO powerhouse Succession, each College Girl is likable despite flaws. It’s those flaws that keep the show grounded and moving forward and something all writers should take note of.
The show focuses on four main characters — Kimberly, the small town woke warrior experiencing diversity for the first time; Bela, the sex-obsessed comic writer who will do anything to achieve her goals; Leighton, the wealthy socialite keeping a significant portion of her life a secret; and Whitney, the athletic phenom in a complicated relationship. While each character has vastly different backgrounds and arcs, they all share a common flaw: they don’t really know who they are.
Exploring identity in a coming-of-age story is nothing new, though it’s highly relatable. While it’s been a while since I was a college freshman — cough 20-years cough — I know what it’s like to try and find yourself. This shared experience is something everyone explores multiple times throughout their life, especially when thrust into adulthood for the first time.
Relatability takes good characters and makes them great. We don’t need to relate to every character’s traits — I clearly have nothing in common with college girls — but we need to find ourselves somewhere in the story. I know what it’s like to explore identity and understand the characters’ experiences. It also means I see the trouble coming for the girls as the season unfolds since their current pursuits of identity will inevitably end in disaster. This tension lives in the episodes, yet I want to see the characters persevere regardless.
When writing characters, consider how the reader will connect with them. Will they share a similar journey? Will they see aspirational versions of themselves? Granted, you can follow Succession’s path and make all the characters despised, but that’s fuel for another post.
In the end, a great story relies on the development of its characters. The Sex Lives of College Girls uses a common, relatable experience — exploring identity — to draw in the audience. How do you explore character development and audience relatability?