Big changes are afoot at Essex College. The Sex Lives of College Girls Season 2 finale marked a number of major turning points for the core four: Bela (Amrit Kaur) is looking to transfer schools, Whitney (Alyah Chanelle Scott) is planning to move out of the suite, and Kimberly (Pauline Chalamet) kissed her roommate’s ex-boyfriend, placing her at the cusp of a messy love triangle. It’s already more than enough to feed another chaotic semester for the girls. But to add even more fuel to the fire, series regular Reneé Rapp is set to depart the Max comedy during its upcoming third season.
According to Deadline’s report on July 10, Rapp will appear in a handful of episodes and wrap up her storyline early in the season before exiting the series. Her departure marks another loss for sapphic representation, given the current trend of studios and TV platforms consistently canceling or erasing media that features lesbian characters and relationships. Rapp’s portrayal of Leighton Murray, a wealthy legacy student from New York coming to terms with her sexuality, is one of the best representations of queer self-acceptance in recent years.
Whereas Season 1 focused primarily on Leighton’s closeted experience, Season 2 really allowed her to blossom into a proud, queer woman. After coming out to her suitemates, Leighton dove into the casual dating sphere. It’s a huge step up from the first season, which saw Leighton terrified to even make eye contact with another woman in public because she didn’t want to be perceived as possibly gay. Later in the season, she entered a relationship with her “doppelbanger” Tatum (Gracie Dzienny), whose support encouraged Leighton to come out to her father.
Leighton’s journey towards self-love is treated with such care, and it resonates both on and off the screen. To lose such a dynamic character in Season 3, especially when she's the only member of the core friend group that’s part of the LGBTQ+ community, is especially disappointing.
Rapp took to social media on Monday to bid a heartfelt farewell to her character. The 23-year-old actor, who is openly bisexual, has previously spoken about how playing Leighton has been both difficult and rewarding, as it’s been pivotal to Rapp’s personal journey in overcoming her own internalized homophobia.
“A lot of queer work gets belittled, but playing Leighton has changed my life,” she wrote. “I love who I am 10x more than I did before knowing her. I hope she gave y’all a little bit of that too. She’s such a tiny part of representation, but even the tiny parts count. I wouldn’t be half the person I am without her and y’all.”
What makes Rapp’s exit even more devastating is the way the intimate friendship between the suitemates has defined the show; to lose such an integral part of that group feels like losing a limb. The best parts see all four women on screen together and bouncing off each other’s energy. Small details like the gang’s lively pregame dance parties or their dining hall debrief sessions were crucial towards building a realistic friendship dynamic between college students. With so much media catered towards the high school experience, it’s refreshing to see a teen show explore coming-of-age stories set in university.
Yet it’s within the tender moments of group bonding that the series really found its footing. In Season 2, Episode 5 “Taking Shots,” Leighton accompanies Kimberly to her egg donation surgery. While Kimberly is freaking out over the thought of being put under, Leighton facetimes Bela and Whitney back at Essex for support. It’s such a pure display of genuine female love, which helps cement the series as not just another raunchy teen comedy, but essential viewing.
Leighton is also the glue keeping the girls together. At the end of Season 2, she appears to be the only character in a stable state. She rekindles her relationship with Alicia (Midori Francis) and is finally content with her identity. She’s the only person in the group not hiding a secret, which is a complete 180 from the person she was at the beginning of the series. It would’ve been exciting to see Leighton’s growth juxtaposed against the rest of the group, or act as a voice of reason when Whitney and Kimberly inevitably fall out. Leighton’s absence will shake the group’s foundation, and the remaining members will surely have a difficult time navigating their friendships without her.
While it’s upsetting to have to say goodbye to such a powerful character, Rapp’s departure is not unprecedented. Her situation parallels that of Olivia Rodrigo, who left Disney+’s High School Musical: The Musical: The Series as her music career took off. Similarly, Rapp, who signed with Interscope Records last year, is currently in the process of launching her debut album “Snow Angel” and planning for a world tour.
Rapp has previously spoken about wanting to prioritize music over acting. During an interview with Gay Times, the actor-singer explained: “I don’t feel as confident when I act or when I’m doing Broadway. It scares the sh*t out of me. I don’t want to be seen as an actor — I want to be seen as a musician.” It looks like the music industry’s gain has become TV’s loss. We’ll miss you, Leighton Murray — please visit Essex soon!
The Sex Lives of College Girls is streaming on Max. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.
Dianna Shen is a TV Writer at Primetimer based in New York. Her work has been featured in Paste Magazine and Decider, among other outlets.