TV Review: Sex Education

Netflix hooks viewers up with a new series, “Sex Education,” that embraces the awkwardness of teenage relationships.

When it comes to sex talk, the new Netflix series “Sex Education” hits the G-spot in delivering a charming coming-of-age dramedy on a taboo subject. Its first season is just an introduction to the narrative, but the misfit characters and their ubiquitous naivete over sexual experiences is so comically realistic and relatable, it will make millennials wish the show had been released sooner.

The show features Otis (Asa Butterfield), a nerdy teen who becomes the school’s unofficial sex therapist through his surprising expertise on love and intimacy despite, ironically, being a virgin. Otis is accustomed to his peers’ hilariously awkward and racy issues, as his mother (Gillian Anderson) is a professional sex guru, unafraid of explicit conversations and casual genitalia home decor. So, when social pariah and bad-girl Maeve Wiley (Emma Mackey) spots Otis’ counseling potential, the two start a business in advising on their classmates’ sexual issues while capitalizing on their sexual repressions and inexperience.

Although the story takes place in England, the backdrop of “Sex Education” curiously feels aesthetically American. The characters chat by their lockers, sport the school’s varsity jackets, hang in cliques, and plan upcoming school dances, which are all stereotypically within American high school culture. The humor also doesn’t feel “British,” which usually caters to cynicism or sarcasm. Rather there are rosier moments that allude to John Hughes’ films’ light-hearted humor. Subsequently, the show feels like it takes place in a zeitgeisty ‘80s even though it’s set in the modern day. The wardrobe is colorful and oversized, and the soundtrack is nostalgic, vibing a throwback, vintage spirit.

With a bizarre plan in motion, the characters also begin to display their endearingly amusing natures. The actors themselves all fit into their characters like gloves, which heightens the authenticity of their performances. Otis’ mousy and gawky traits are incredibly comical in flustering situations, which happens frequently considering the show’s premise. Eric Effiong (Ncuti Gatwa), Otis’ best friend, is especially a scene stealer with his ebullient attitude and witty remarks, often generating great rapport and camaraderie between the buddy-buddy duo. Maeve becomes the brains of the group with her sharp-tongued, edgy sense of humor. Even Otis’ mother, Dr. Jean Milburn, is facetious, with her hip and brazen youth. Other zany side characters include Aimee Gibbs (Aimee Lou Wood), a popular airhead in a “Mean Girls”-esque squad, and Lily Iglehart (Tanya Reynolds), a geeky clarinet player who writes alien erotica. Well-timed and well-executed, the comedy and the weirdos of the show are worth the watch.

Now, with a title like “Sex Education,” how accurate is the show’s discourse on the birds and the bees? Well, the series is no instruction manual. It doesn’t get clinical or technical with coitus. Though there are certainly moments that surround intercourse and romantic pursuits, the show primarily centers on the characters’ mental and emotional depth, concentrating on concepts of self-doubt, self-discovery, self-hate, and self-love. Interestingly, many of the young characters are initially neurotic about their sex lives, but the crux of their problems or solutions are rarely about sexual relations. The general topic of “sex” is used to segue into these characters’ true underlying struggles of teen-hood: wanting to fit in with the crowd and looking desperately for others’ approval. The show shares a raw insight of juvenescence, rife with failures and feats.

“Sex Education” explores individualism, and it does so further by seamlessly delving into the bigger political matters, like feminism and sexuality, that weave into the characters’ identities. At first, each character seems to be pigeonholed into a typical character trope, but the show subverts that by fleshing out three-dimensional personalities and compelling journeys. Eric’s open homosexuality and Maeve’s unwavering feminist ideology are empowering. There is also a heart-wrenching scene about abortion that has turned into a memorable and well-handled subplot, cautious to not overstep boundaries and being quite diplomatic to people’s sensitivities. The series is careful not to get preachy, so anyone watching is eased into the perspective of these communities and feel a sense of empathy. We see that some characteristics and ethics are significant parts of these individuals, but they are not wholly defined by those qualities. This allows viewers to have a more nuanced understanding of these characters that help them arrive at the bigger picture — that at their cores, these wide-eyed and anxious youngsters are learning to navigate the entangled ropes of the world.

“Sex Education” approaches its main topic of sexuality with an open-minded (and open-legged) sensibility, but it is also doesn’t shy away from being silly. Its honest take on the perplexity of adolescence, replete with sexual insecurities and delicate matters, is refreshing. All in all, it’s a fun and sentimental series, one that audiences can binge with an apt “Netflix and Chill.”

Grade: A
Created by: Laurie Nunn
Starring: Asa Butterfield, Gillian Anderson, Ncuti Gatwa, Emma Mackey, Connor Swindells
Premiered: January 11, 2019 on Netflix

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