Behold the perils of freshman dorm life: sneaking alcohol, surviving communal bathrooms, heading toward menopause... Okay, definitely not all the problems of your average first-year undergrad, but Barri and Joan are far from average. In this ridiculously giddy college comedy series, they're two middle-aged suburbanites who return to school full-blast, living it up shamelessly among their much-younger colleagues.
And "shameless" is the key to the all-out, effortless bawdiness that makes Campus Ladies nothing short of a riot for 22 minutes at a time. At its heart are its two stars (and co-creators), Groundlings veterans Christen Sussin and Carrie Aizley. Both inhabit their characters -- divorced Barri and widowed Joan, respectively -- with an abandon that makes viewers cringe with delight, especially if they have extroverted parents who never know when to shut up.
The series pilot cuts right to the chase, moving quickly through the setup in favor of on-campus hijinks: The ladies catch Barri's husband in bed with another woman, "playing her like an accordion," as Barri explains. Two scenes later, the pair is dragging designer luggage through the fictional University of the Midwest campus, loudly throwing around slang like "dude" and "quad" as if the words were long-lost secrets they can't wait to tell.
On move-in day, the girls meet the series' two standout supporting characters: neighboring roommates in the form of sweet southern Drew (Derek Carter) and entrepreneurial Iranian Abdul (Amir Talai). The foursome are fish out of water to varying degrees and their unconditional friendship provides a naturally funny contradiction while being sincerely warm.
With the improvisational expertise of its leads and series executive producer Cheryl Hines (veteran of another cringeworthy series, Curb Your Enthusiasm), Campus Ladies keeps an edge-of-your-seat excitement. The dialogue feels as raw as any off-the-edge improv exercise and the actors consistently appear to be reacting to lines for the first time.
At the center of the show's humor: sex talk. Lots of it. How to get it, when it's good, how it should be done. No surprise with episode titles like "No Means No," "Lesbian Lovers," and "My First Orgasm." And there's a slam-dunk contrast between the open, sex-crazed Barri and the reserved, hesitant Joan, first highlighted in the excellent "Night of the Condom."
In that episode, the girls head for a bar where they meet smooth loverboy James (Anthony Anderson) and his roommate, beat-poet wacko Stuart (Saturday Night Live's Will Forte). While Barri and James go the mayonnaise-on-the-nipples route in the bedroom -- James's nipples, not Barri's -- Stuart passes on two nuggets of sexual wisdom to the visiting Drew and Abdul: 1) Name a woman's genitalia as soon as possible, preferably something medieval like Esmerelda; and 2) Never wear a condom because it makes a woman feel dirty.
It's this kind of head-slapping, quick-riffing silliness that keeps Campus Ladies afloat even when repetition sets in now and again. The scenes and episodes fly by, so fresh material pops in and out at a satisfying speed. Add in the occasional guest actor like Paul Reubens and the possibility of an improv line falling flat and Campus Ladies is the happiest, most energetic hidden comedy on television.