Netflix has once again delivered to its faithful subscribers another completely binge-able series, aptly named Sex Education. Centred around a flawed but intelligent sex therapist, Jean, performed by the seemingly never-ageing Gillian Anderson, (The X-Files, The Fall) raising your not-so-typical angsty teenager, Otis, played by Asa Butterfield (Ender’s Game, Hugo).
The series plays much like an 80’s romantic comedy à la Sixteen Candles or Pretty in Pink, which captures that old-time nostalgia with the intelligent interlacing of the social issues high schoolers face today. Each character is crafted smartly and with a complexity so that you truly do feel connected to each one.
Our hero, Otis, is hopelessly in love with the unattainable girl from the wrong side of the tracks, Maeve (introducing Emma Mackey’s first major screen credit). She hides her intelligence and love of literature with black tights and rough edges, which only endears her more to Otis and the audience. Her difficult home life makes her a grifter which aligns her with Otis and the pair begin their own secret business of Otis delivering sage-like advice to students that are in dire need of sexual guidance, and Maeve acting as solicitor of Otis’ clients.
Early on she captures the eye of the school darling and swim superstar, Jackson (Kedar Williams-Stirling) who pursues her relentlessly until they are coupled, much to the heartbreak of Otis. Especially since Otis inadvertently allows his advice to actually help Jackson woo the lass with an over-the-top gesture that calls to the romantic that Maeve hopelessly denied was in her.
One cannot overlook Otis’ best friend, Eric, played by Ncuti Gatwa, who is struggling with finding himself amid homophobic bullying from the headmaster’s son and fellow student, Adam (Connor Swindells), who is portrayed as just as complex and conflicted as Eric. Eric is by far the most likeable character of the series with his outlandish outfits and brutal but hilarious honesty with himself and his dear friend Otis.
As enjoyable and excited as viewers will be at seeing Eric, Adam is the polar opposite. He is everything mean, homophobic and entitled you’d expect of a boy who seems to do whatever he likes at the expense of others and with no consequences. However, we end up seeing him as more than the class bully by the end of the series and your heart does break just a tiny bit for him when you understand where his bullying stems from, explained by his overbearing, never-satisfied father and Adam’s own struggles with sexuality.
The series comes across as light-hearted and laugh-out-loud funny with the antics of adolescents dealing with sexual problems that we as adults forget and yet still haunt us. This is evident from Jean’s past which is slowly discovered over the course of the series and spills over into her parenting of Otis. As a therapist, she knows how to talk the talk, encouraging young Otis to open up to her, but at the same time fails at turning that therapist expertise on herself to see how her boundary crossing actions end up pushing him away, and also with her current relationships with the other men in her life. James Purefoy is an exquisite and wonderful surprise with his cameo as Otis’ father and serves to add depth to both mother and son’s problems.
Otis eventually comes to peace with his own issues in an epic bike fail scene trying to help the eternal virgin, Lily (Tanya Reynolds) overcome her inability to allow herself to finally leap the hurdle into womanhood. This series is very enjoyable, making you want to click that ‘play next episode’ as soon as the previous one ends. Part way through the series the episodes become somewhat darker and it begins to dive into serious issues dealing with sexuality, assault, drugs, infidelity and privacy – in the form of leaked explicit photos through social media. However, the spirit of the show remains intact with enough goofy moments to make it pleasurable.
One final note: with any romantic comedy, you need excellent music as the backdrop to tie those unrequited emotions and glorious highs to memory, so that a single melody can transport you right back to the exact moment you felt them. Sex Education’s soundtrack is as sexy and gratifying as the content and will have you searching for the songs featured in each episode long after you are done with the season. It is a perfect combination of old school classics and new music by Ezra Furman, who captures the feeling of what it takes to be a teenager expertly. You will be humming the songs from the series long after it concludes. And that will hopefully fill the void until we are served season two of this shameless, smart show.
Sex Education Season 1 is now available on Netflix.