By Sage Molasky ’22
No, I dare say we are not. Sex Education, the new Netflix series from creator Laurie Nunn follows Otis (Asa Butterfield), a socially awkward 17 year old high school student and his escapades through sex, love and friendship. Sounds quite quotidien, does it not? Think again.
His mother, Jean, is a sex-therapist. And despite Otis’ dismay at having such a mother, Otis soon realizes that he too—after years listening to his mom talk about strap ons and erectile dysfunction—has a knack for administering some spot on sex-therapy himself.
Maeve (Emma Mackey), the vividly smart and enigmatically sexy bad girl at school— realizes Otis’ hidden talent, and convinces him to join her in creating an underground business, dishing out sex advice for cold hard cash. The unlikely pair soon discover that sex advice for high schoolers is in high demand. Along the way, the duo embark upon a nuanced bildungsroman of teenage lust, sexual missteps and, ultimately, a stumbling upon love.
The series is full of archetypes, much like the star himself, but what sets this adolescent saga apart from others, is how it breathes new life into the carcasses of cinema selves. Otis, yes, has a gay best friend, Eric, but he is much more than a notch on Sex Education’s diversity belt. Ncuti Gatwa delivers a bright but solemn journey as Eric, navigating his way with immigrant parents, religious struggle, familial obligations and pride in his queer identity.
Maeve, as aforementioned, screams a kind of manic-pixie-dream girl type, but Mackey and the glorious writers give this badass even more rough edges— their nuanced depiction of abortion, parental absence, substance abuse and Maeve’s wit (in and out of the classroom) makes the character so very real.
A host of other personalities— including Adam, the Headmaster’s unruly son (Connor Swindells), Lily, the sex-obsessed virgin writing comic-book erotica (Tanya Reynolds) and Jackson, the superstar, head boy jock (Kedar Williams-Stirling)— redefine our notions of stock characters, making us laugh and connecting, deeply, with our shared humanness. This is where Sex Education truly sets itself on fire, alight in the thicket of many an overdramatized youth television show.
The costumes and set are reminiscent of an 80’s rural, British high school, set to a kick ass 70’s soundtrack. A cacophonous conglomeration of iPhones and neon puffers and 90’s grunge, Sex Education gives us a deliciously inviting world— isolated in its eccentricity and yet utterly accessible in its unapologetic humanity.
Within this world, void of a clear historical context, it is the middle aged explorations of sexuality that add to its Truth. Otis’ mother, Jean, exquisitely played by Gillian Anderson, is both liberated and troubled by her sexual past— and her heartwarming relationship with the striking Jakob (Mikael Persbrandt) presents a wonderful juxtaposition with those of the younger generation.
Ola (Patricia Allison), Jakob’s daughter, is likewise enchanting. And, what’s more, to our delight, Sex Education deals with so much more than mere titillation— from episodes dealing with loss, sexual predation and conflict with our multitudinous identities, Sex Education illustrates love in its many forms and intricacies.
Even the most progressive and enlightened of souls has something to gain from this roaring circus of fun. It is a must watch for anyone in need of a good laugh or a good excuse to see true television at its finest. Sex Education is, quite simply, a show about being human. And for that reason, its is the kind of learning we all ought to be doing, every day of our lives.