I usually am wary of sex comedies because they could easily venture towards the offensive route. Sex is a tricky topic to delve into, one that requires a degree of perceptiveness. So I came into Netflix’s Sex Education (2019) with not much expectations really. In my mind I was already categorizing this as one of those TV shows I’d play when I am in a “not paying attention mood.” Where I do not need to worry about missing anything important when my brain goes elsewhere. But what happened was quite the opposite.
I binged the hell out of this series. First off, I have never seen a straight white boy be best friends with a gay black boy before. At one point in the show, in the prom episode (won’t be giving anything away), I was waiting for them (the show) to talk about this, for the kids around them to comment on this, but no. Everybody acts like they’re just your normal, run of the mill best buddies. And that is how it should be, and for that I am immensely thankful for this show.
Second said gay best friend whose name is Eric (played by the fantastic Ncuti Gatwa) is a phenomenal character who despite my apprehensions, did not become a token gay guy. His story line is heart breaking and hopeful. I cannot forget the scene with his father, which was such a tender moment. The dad, which one might assume is one of those cliched, homophobic dads who pummel the gay out of their gay sons, is nothing but. He is an actual, decent parent whose apprehensions about gayness stems only from the fact that he wants to shelter his son from the pain that this world inflicts on those belonging to the minority. Let alone two minorities rolled into one person. Being black is hard enough, being gay adds more fuel to an already raging fire.
Third, the rest of the cast are solid. Asa Butterfield’s Otis no matter how weird a teenage sex therapist is (as Ruth, one of the characters bluntly put it) is believable as an actual person. Butterfield is such a strong actor to effectively convey his awkwardness and apprehensions with a twitch of his lip, or the furrowing of his brows. Other notable performances are Emma Mackey as the smart and bad-ass scary Maeve Wiley, and Tanya Reynolds as the sci-fi obsessed Lily who wants to lose her virginity fast. Gillian Anderson as Jean, the sex therapist mum is also something to watch. She plays her character with such delight, it is hilarious.
Fourth, I think Sex Education is funny as hell, in a slightly dark and very absurd way. I say absurd because: a. a sexually repressed teenager happens to be a sex guru to a certain extent, and b. his teenage peers, the age who wouldn’t be caught dead admitting to vulnerabilities, let alone sexual issues to anyone (not even a sex guru), would really air out their sexual issues…to someone, especially a someone who goes to their school. The second absurdity is this: this series seems to be in between eras. The kids wear very 80s looking outfits. The show has 80s sounding, soundtrack. But you see smartphones, and social media. I am unsure too, of where this is set. I am guessing England since the accent is British, duh. Although I’ve seen enough teen British movies and TV to know that they almost always wear uniforms to school. It is a bit strange too, the setting. It’s like this sprawling countryside, that is equal parts idyllic and modern. But I don’t know, I kinda like the 80s vibe. And I like how a little bit twilight zone-y the whole thing is. And I think the material is solid enough for the tonal shifts to not be a distraction. To me, at least.
Fifth, I think its treatment of sex is tender and sensitive. It shows how sex is a complicated matter that ties itself to identity and to belonging-ness. Two things that are crucial to those coming of age. It is also not shy about portraying the reality that teenagers have sex (prepare yourself for sex scenes guys and gals) and that’s that. And they also don’t deny the fact that sex lead to certain complications like unwanted pregnancies. There is an episode set in an abortion clinic, which I think was among their strongest scenes. It was funny, tender and showed no judgement whatsoever on the women who had to go through this process.
Sex Education is kinky, and funny, and dark, and unsettling, and weird, and entertaining as hell, but the piece de resistance is that I think this show wears its heart on its sleeve.
Rating: 4/5 Stars
Watch this if:
1, You are love that 80s John Hughes vibe!
2. You are comfortable enough to talk about sex, baby! (Because they do go deep. Have you ever heard of vaginismus? I think not.)
3. You want to see Gillian Anderson post Dana Scully!
4. You love a good, bingeable character-driven series!
5. You like your comedies dark and kinky, but at the same time earnest AF!