Much like life itself, sex can sometimes be enjoyable, painful and incredibly messy. Netflix’s latest comedy series Sex Education has all the ingredients to be a cringe-inducing failure. I’ll admit, I wasn’t sold on the trailer and going into this it’s always tough to predict how well the comedy will translate into serial format. When it comes to Sex Education though, this teen sex drama confidently balances its humour with likable, well written characters, a consistent theme and a whole load of sex. It’s surprisingly deep too, with a recurring lesson throughout teaching us that looks can be deceiving and to never judge a book by its cover.
At the heart of this drama is 16-year-old Otis. With his Mum Jean working as a licenced sex therapist and a seemingly endless revolving door of men in her life, Otis relies on his eccentric best friend Eric to navigate the hazardous world of high school. When resident bully Adam is paired up with Otis for a school assignment, he learns the truth about Otis’ mum and it’s not long before things start to spiral out of control. To complicate matters, a new girl at school Maeve shows up and immediately becomes mixed up in Otis’ life. After a mishap with Adam results in some profound advice that helps his relationship, the two team up together and conduct sex therapy sessions in an abandoned bathroom outside the school grounds.
What follows are a series of episodes that see Otis tackle a whole host of different sexual problems whilst trying to deal with his own feelings toward Maeve. Of course, this causes a rift between him and Eric who see their friendship put to the test during some very dramatic and shocking moments late on. This builds toward the penultimate episode which is easily the highlight here, seeing all of our characters join together for a school dance that ends with a heartfelt speech from Otis and most of our characters learning some hard truths. The finale does leave things hanging in the balance though but for spoiler purposes we won’t divulge what these plot developments are. Suffice to say I really hope Netflix green-light a second season here as the story is left wide open and there’s not much in the way of a resolution for any of the storylines which is a little disappointing.
It’s also worth mentioning that the general geographic inconsistencies may put a fair few people off this one. While almost all of the actors are British and the humour sticks to the typical mix of sarcasm and brutal home truths that make this so distinct to our culture, much of the show sticks heavily to American traditions. The school dance feels ripped right out of American Pie; the school itself feels like a mix of American high school clichés; even the general colloquialisms have been changed to fit with an international audience. One such example sees a student potentially getting “banned from school grounds” while the correct terminology in Britain is expelled. Moments like these crop up constantly giving the show a feel of being a hybrid child of The Inbetweeners and American Pie.
Having said that, the writing in Sex Education is outstanding and easily the highlight here. Gillian Anderson in particular is the stand out and her scenes are full of emotional depth as a woman struggling to commit while desperately trying to stop her son from growing up and not needing her as much. Along with her meaningful and empathetic arc, almost every character is written with the same level of care. High School star Jackson may look to be the perfect student in person but behind the scenes his controlling mother overlooks his every move. Maeve’s troubled home life gives her the perfect reason to put up a hard exterior at school. Even Eric, who begins as the comic relief in the series, is given a wonderful arc here, one that has some really heartfelt and surprising twists along the way. The most unlikely of which coming during the finale which really adds another dimension to his character.
There’s a wild soundtrack to accompany the crazy sex-fuelled world of high school too. An eccentric mix of pop and rock combine to surprisingly good effect. There’s the usual array of amusing stock music used during the particularly cringy moments too tbut for the most part, Sex Education does an excellent job with its song choice, really helping to bring the most out of this teen drama.
Sex Education may look like a cheaply produced, cringe-inducing comedy but under this facade is a profoundly deep, thought-provoking look at high school life. The message around acceptance and not judging a book by its cover are topics explored time and time again throughout the series and for the most part, really help make this such an enthralling watch. It helps that almost every character is likable and given enough depth to avoid feeling like stereotypes. The lack of a definitive ending is a little disappointing and some of the cultural confusion may put off some people but if you can take to the style of comedy offered here, Sex Education is easily one of the best shows of the year so far and a wild ride from start to finish.