Sex Education was a sleeper hit for Netflix in 2019. The show starring Asa Butterfield, Ncuti Gatwa, Emma Mackey and Gillian Anderson and a whole bunch more, finally brought some real world teenage angst about relationships to the small screen.
Otis (Butterfield) whose mother Jean (Anderson) is a sex therapist, decides to team up with the rebellious Maeve (Mackey) and start up a clandestine sexual health and therapy clinic at school. Various students then begin paying for Otis’ counselling and suggestions on how best to approach their troubles. All whilst he himself has to navigate his own awkward repressed feelings, and an overbearing mother. The show’s popularity comes down to to its relatable teenage characters, humorous but realistic approach to sexual issues, and its diverse casting. Season 2 is set to deliver more of this, as Otis and his friends return for another term of high school.
The second season comes quite literally bursting out, with Otis now becoming sexually aroused at very inconvenient times and finding himself having to masturbate all too often for his liking. And Moordale High School has been overrun with a case of STI hysteria as rumours spread of a chlamydia outbreak.
As the show progresses Otis and his girlfriend Ola (Patricia Allison) try to take things slow but teenage hormones seem to get the better of both of them in opposing ways. Whilst Eric (Gatwa) meets the new French transfer student Rahim (Sami Outalbali) but struggles to get over his fiery and intense first encounter with Adam (Connor Swindells). Maeve (Mackey) gets reinstated at the school, but is fighting to stay despite the stigma of being a loner and having to juggle her deadbeat mum coming back into her life.
It’s easy to write the show off as a funny look at the sex lives of teenagers. But it’s actually a much more intricate portrayal of relationships that both young and old alike can relate to. Otis’ extreme sensitivities and desire to want to fit in like a normal teenager results in many heated arguments with his mother (pretty sure we’ve all been there). Adam struggles with his repressed homosexuality that conflicts with his external masculinity. Maeve comes to the realisation that she’s attracted to Otis, causing her to come to loggerheads with Ola. The show also examines the difficulties adults have in maintaining their own relationships, including infidelity, reclaiming your sexuality and the distinction between sex and love. So in many ways there’s a comfort knowing that even adults get it wrong sometimes and can do with some coaching.
The show itself has matured too, branching out from it’s core trio of Otis, Maeve and Eric and now utilising its expanded ensemble cast to have smaller individual arcs rise and fall through the course of the season. The show covers such a wide spectrum from pansexuality to asexuality and the sinister mental effects of sexual assault and trauma. It’s wonderfully diverse in both casting and storylines and prefers to be open and honest rather than shroud things in taboo or a sensitive touch.
Creator and writer Laurie Nunn has crafted an endearing series that seems to emulate the John Hughes-esque 80’s high school teen dramas. But, it never feels kitschy (except for maybe Eric’s extremely extra wardrobe) and there’s even an episode later into the season with his own take on The Breakfast Club. However, the series does occasionally fall into the rom-com stereotypes and tropes. And leans more heavily on the dramas of relationships as it moves away from the sex clinic gimmick. But it always manages to redeem itself thanks mostly to its candidness.
The performances are all stellar, particularly from the young cast and Ncuti Gatwa is truly the MVP for this series as he embraces Eric’s extra and campness but also internal struggles of fiery rebellion. Whilst the ditzy but good-natured Aimee played by Aimee Lou Wood gets to show far more emotional depth too. Gillian Anderson gets more to do this season too, as even her character fumbles through the trappings of dating as opposed to her comfort zone of sexual flings.
Even if you missed watching Season 1 when it originally launched last year we’d recommend jumping in and watching. As there are only eight episodes per season at roughly fifty minutes per episode, it’s easy to catch up. Sex Education is uproariously funny but also knows when to change gears and shift to a serious tone. Nunn deftly juggles the humour with the heartache and delivers a show that’s wholesome and heartwarming.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Sex Education is currently streaming on Netflix Australia.