I think we can all agree, the only thing more awkward than the greasy, confusing, acne-ridden years of puberty were the embarrassing and wholly uninformative sex education classes taught by your elderly Maths teacher who broke into a sweat every time he said “vulva”. “Sex” was the hushed word on everybody’s lips and with it spread increasingly ridiculous myths like a bad case of oral herpes. No one knew anything, even the people who had already “done it”. Thankfully, current media has picked up the mantle school curriculums so clumsily dropped and have taken it upon themselves to impart their wisdom of the nether regions. Netflix has already opened eyes to the grim truths of puberty with their hit show Big Mouth – a funny and ridiculous cartoon that everyone should check out, even if they think they know everything about S-E-X – and now they continue their wildly entertaining educational journey with Sex Education.
Sex Education follows Otis (Asa Butterfield of Boy in the Striped Pyjamas fame), a sexually repressed young man with a sexually liberated mother, Jean (played by the utterly fantastic Gillian Anderson of X-Files). Jean works from home as a sex therapist and despite this being a topic of distress for the irked Otis, it soon becomes apparent that her skills have rubbed off on Otis. Maeve (Emma Mackey) – a wickedly smart and blunt social outcast at high school – recognises Otis’ talent after seeing him couch a fellow student through a sexual problem. Maeve, being the cunning young entrepreneur that she is, convinces Otis to set up a high school-based sex counseling business with her for their sexually hapless student body. The plot unfolds with all the whacky fun and explicitly captivating sex tales you would imagine from this setup.
Along with a long line of ridiculous yet fully relatable sexual drama, the show also outlines a clear and captivating story arch thanks to the brilliance of the characters. It would have been so easy to simply rely on worn out high school stereotypes but thankfully Sex Education takes time to craft fully realised, complex characters. Thanks to this, it’s difficult to find a character you fully dislike as everyone has a characteristic that people can relate to or empathise with. The show strives to show that there’s more to people hidden behind the guise of Jock or Bully or Popular or Nerdy – everyone’s going through similar puberty issues and everyone’s got their backstory.
The realness portrayed on screen is helped in large part by the excellent casting. There wasn’t a weak performance in the bunch; everyone fully encapsulated their character. Amazingly, the majority of the main young cast are all fairly new to acting, with some only having two or three credits on their IMDB pages; this would not be at all recognisable based on their performances. Performances from Ncuti Gatwa (who played Otis’ enthusiastic and lovable best friend, Eric) and Emma Mackey, in particular, demonstrated a sort of tender beauty which should certainly help launch their acting careers.
The series offers more than any school curriculum could – it’s got intelligence and heart. The wide and inclusive scope of topics explored are handled with care and respect. The show takes time to analysis and explores each character’s issue and it gives the audience time to care and empathies even if they cannot personally relate. Although the show seems to tick off the list of topics that should be discussed, it never feels forced or like the audience is receiving a lecture and that’s mainly because the show as a whole feels so real and cleverly crafted.
Brains isn’t all Sex Education has, it’s bright in more ways than one. The actually visual aesthetic is brilliant in its fun, retro style. The series looks like a visual ode to American 80’s rom-coms from the likes of John Hughes, with enough eye-assaulting bright colours and clashing patterns to give a vintage fashion fan wet dreams. Despite the complete 80’s feel with aged architecture and furniture completing the retro portrait, it’s clear the series is not actually set in this period due to modern technology continually cropping up. Visually, it’s more like a little-idealized pocket of time that’s free from the constraints of reality.
This series was a delight, with far too many brilliant plot points and characters to discuss in just one review. Sex Education should be added to everyone’s Netflix list, whether you’re a sexual novice or practised expert. It’s difficult not to feel attached to the characters of Sex Education and with a second series planned, fans will surely be excited to see what’s still to cum (sorry). – Michaela Barton (@MichaelaBarton_)