Not Your Parent’s Sex Ed
by Suresh Hanubal
In “Sex Education”’s mere eight episodes it is able to tell a story that, although its particulars may vary from many people’s high school experiences; its overall message speaks towards the awkward universality of that time in people’s lives. There are a lot of moving components in this show, and they all add up to one pleasant viewing experience.
This bingeable Netflix series centers on a socially awkward 16-year-old boy named Otis (Asa Butterfield), his sex therapist mother Jean (Gillian Anderson), his best friend Eric (Ncuti Gatwa) and school bad girl Maeve (Emma Mackey). This whacky cast of characters navigates the perils of teenaged life together, with many awkward and hilarious missteps along the way. In addition, as a result of the knowledge Otis has gleaned living with his wildly inappropriate sex therapist mother, Maeve and Otis start a sex therapy business for students at their secondary school together.
“Sex Education” is more than your typical coming of age story. In its eight episodes, the quirky British series deals with topics as varied as abortion, homophobia, and, well, sex. As the series name suggests, sex is at the core of this show. The series often starts off with a couple having or attempting to have sex; followed by the couple being therapized by Otis later on in that episode. The centerpiece of the show, the aforementioned business that Maeve and Otis set up, consoles students through their sex-related issues and helps educate viewers on some things they might not have learned in high school sex-ed in the process.
As to its setting, “Sex Education” remains ambiguous. Although the characters themselves have British accents, the secondary school they attend looks more like a stereotypical American High School than its British counterparts. The school’s culture is also much more stereotypically American than British. In addition, the style of architecture itself in the Netflix series setting is a mish-mash of British and Pacific Northwestern architectural styles. In regard to fashion, the clothing styles as expressed in the show are an interesting mix of those popular in the 1990s and the styles of today. This further adds to the ambiguous setting of the show and in a way makes it more timeless. This ambiguity was probably intentional on the creators part, in order to make the show feel more universal to relate to a wider audience.
The characters of the series themselves also hail from and represent a wide variety of racial and sexual backgrounds. By my count, there were at least 4 LGBTQ+ characters, including the main characters best friend. There were also a wide variety of racial identities represented, with South Asian, East Asian, Black, White, and Multiracial persons on the show. One of the three main characters, Eric, is a gay black man, ¾ of the secondary schools popular clique are of non-white backgrounds, and one character even has parents in a lesbian interracial relationship. However, although it has a level of diversity approaching that of a PBS special, “Sex Education” manages to stay surprisingly non-preachy in its implementation. The demographic attributes of its characters are more of an incidental feature and don’t seem to play into how they are seen and present themselves. In this regard, “Sex Education” portrays the mythicized post-racial tolerant society that western society strives toward in a manner that is not patronizing but authentic and real.
Although my impression of “Sex Education” is mostly positive, this does come with some caveats. The extreme sexual nature of the show, while amusing, can detract from the enjoyment of some more conservative viewers. Also, although the show probably does not intend to be too realistic in its depiction of teenage life, the extreme unrealism of the situations these teenage characters get into does limit its relatability to a certain extent. The characters all also reside in a semirural area spread out over a vast expanse, however even without cars they are able to quickly travel from location to location. This is simply unfeasible. Lastly, as with all shows about teenage characters, most of the cast is clearly in their twenties or higher. All though, these are just minor gripes, and overall “Sex Education” is a delightfully awkward eight-hour viewing experience.
Overall Rating: 4.37 / 5.00 stars