If you have been privy to the public school system’s sex education courses in the last decade or so, you know that they need to step up their game. The limited information they are allowed to cover leave many students behind and uninformed, leading to more risky sex practices later on.
This is a worldwide phenomenon, but thankfully, slowly but surely, it is changing. Thanks to the media, talking about sex and intimate health has become less of a taboo than ever before.
In January of 2019, Netflix released “Sex Education” and it continued the conversation in a funny, lighthearted but informative way. Netflix released the second season early last month and it is arguably even better than the first.
The show is set in a non-specific UK town and focuses on 16-year-old Otis (Asa Butterfield), his best friend Eric (Ncuti Gatwa) and an outcast and secret brainiac Maeve (Emma Mackey) when they come back from summer break to Moordale Secondary School. Sex is the thing on the student body’s mind, but as we soon find out, many students are having issues in the area. Otis’s mother Jean (Gillian Anderson) is a sex therapist, and when Otis helps one of his classmates with performance issues, Maeve discovers that Otis knows a lot more about sex than he cared to share. She sees the opportunity to help the student body and make some easy cash by setting up a sex clinic of their very own.
Students end up coming to Otis and Maeve to talk about relationship issues, self-esteem issues, performance issues, techniques, consent and even if their feelings or habits are normal. This gives the show a platform to explore multiple areas without disrupting the overarching plot.
Of course, Otis and Maeve have their own problems they have to work out, as well as Eric, and the heavier topics are covered through their lives.
Asa Butterfield is a relatively well-known actor who started his career at just nine years old. His first big appearance was in “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” in 2008. Then he starred in the movie “Hugo” in 2011. As Otis, he is awkward and a little goofy toward the beginning but becomes a very dynamic and strong individual as he pushes the boundaries of his comfort zone throughout the show.
Gillian Anderson, most known for her role in “The X Files” TV show, is perfectly cast for the role. She and Butterfield interact so naturally as mother and son, and off screen, Anderson says that they just click.
Otis’s best friend is Eric, a flamboyant and gossipy openly gay kid that he’s known forever. This is the first major role for Ncuti Gatwa, but you can tell that he has fun with it. Otis and Eric are each other’s biggest support systems through everything.
One thing I really like about his character is that he’s not the ‘token gay kid’ of the show. Many times the gay best friend is just there to add diversity and their defining characteristic is that they’re gay. But Eric is such a complex person just like everyone else, and even though being gay is a prominent part of his life, he has other aspects that make him a well-rounded character.
Emma Mackey is also a relatively new name with this being her first major role. She plays the pariah of Mooredale and has a reputation for having a lot of sex. Most of the rumors aren’t true or are exaggerated, including the one that earns her the rather horrible nickname “Cock-biter.” Despite the backlash of her peers and coming from a broken home, she secretly gets straight A’s. She also has a way of seeing the best in people and secretly has a lot of friends.
The show is trending now largely because it has something for everyone. Most teens can see themselves represented by the characters, and even if viewers aren’t interested in the information and support what the show has to offer, there is a solid storyline between the main characters.
The show is a reliable source of information even though it is presented in such a casual way. Creator Lauri Nunn does her research to ensure that misinformation doesn’t spread. But of course, sometimes that can lead to an interesting search history. “I find myself researching very strange things,” said Nunn in an interview with Screen Daily, “Sometimes I’m like, ‘I’ve just spent an hour researching fingering… weird.’”
The cinematography is stunning, thanks to directors Jamie Cairney and Oli Russell, adding so much emotion to every scene, often in fun and creative ways.
The soundtrack, put together by Oli Julian, is also very well done. Mostly it consists of classic rock or indie music, but there is a nice mix of more modern hits to keep up with the times. There is also a lot of white noise and neutral sounds involved to make sure the soundtrack isn’t overdone.
Costume design is also a key feature of the show (Rosa Dias). You know that you’re watching a show set in a contemporary environment, but each character has a unique and expressive style, often in a retro way. Interestingly, some of it is American retro, such as letter jackets for the athletes. In this way, even though it wasn’t officially the intention, multiple cultures can see themselves even better represented through the show.
It reminded me of the shows “Freaks and Geeks” (1999-2000) and “Skins” (2007-2013). Nunn used “Freaks and Geeks” as part of her inspiration for how “Sex Education” would be done as well as the classic movie “10 Things I Hate About You.” She wanted to take these classics that revolutionized TV in a lot of ways and revamp them to fit the times and provide a wider platform for conversation. This is also her first major project.
Many Netflix shows are hit or miss, but it is safe to say that this one is a hit.