by Abbey Delk
Teenagers are having sex! Shocking, I know. Less shocking, however, is that the Netflix original series “Sex Education” is back for a second season, and it’s even better than the first.
Much like its first season, the show is focused on the fraught romantic lives of students at a British high school, particularly when it comes to issues of sexual health and intimacy. It is clear that the writers have continued to strive to bring taboo and uncomfortable topics out of the shadows. Viewers are invited to reconsider traditional views on subjects ranging from sexually transmitted infections to female masturbation and begin to understand them as simply parts of the human experience. And if you’re willing to put your judgment aside, “Sex Education” delivers an uplifting message of self-acceptance and a celebration of healthy romantic and sexual relationships between young people.
The central plot of season two focuses on the appointment of Jean Milburn (Gillian Anderson), our protagonist Otis’s (Asa Butterfield) mother and renowned sex therapist, as a consultant to help update the school’s sex education curriculum. An obvious conflict arises, as her son has been running a secret and informal “sex clinic” to provide advice to his peers since the beginning of last season. Now it is up for the student body to decide whose wisdom is most valuable: a certified specialist or a boy who just recently shared his first kiss. (Hint: more than you would expect to pick the one without the doctorate.)
Much like last season, the show explores instances of misunderstandings and uncomfortable moments teenagers (and their parents and teachers) experience in the bedroom. An especially touching moment comes when a member of the school’s drama club comes to Jean to express her worries about her lack of sexual attraction to other people. Good portrayals of asexuality in film and television are rare, but “Sex Education” seems to hit the target. As Jean explains to the concerned student, who is worried there is something wrong with her, “Sex doesn’t make you whole, so how could you ever be broken?”
The show’s vibrant characters are what truly capture audience members, and the crew from last season have all returned with a few compelling additions to fully round out the second installment. Eric (Ncuti Gatwa), whose narrative arc last season was mostly focused on the search for self-love and repairing his relationship with his stern father, has a new love interest. The soulful and charming Rahim (Sami Outalbaliis) is at once the ideal high school boyfriend, but don’t be fooled. Warm and fuzzy feelings last barely a full episode before complications emerge. The love triangle that quickly follows his introduction is one of the season’s highlights.
Viewers also get a lot more screen time from the adult cast members. Especially compelling is Maureen Groff (Samantha Spiro), who was featured as the mother of the sullen and troubled Adam last season, and has taken on a much larger role this time around. Her realization that her marriage no longer brings her joy and the courage she summons to leave her husband ranks as one of the most inspiring and feel-good elements of season two. The subsequent friendship that blossoms between her and Jean is a delightful bonus.
Another new element is the exploration of last season’s standoffish and sharp-tongued Maeve (Emma Mackey) and her relationship with her mother. The two come together only to drift back apart several times during the show, owing mostly to the lingering neglect Maeve experienced as a child and her suspicion that her mother continues to abuse drugs. The heart-wrenching and painful conflict they share in the final episode is not easy to watch. Perhaps there will be room for reconciliation in season three–though the chances seem slim.
But don’t get me wrong, there are still plenty of moments in this second season that would be difficult to label as anything but “bizarre.” Most notable being the version of “Romeo and Juliet” the drama club puts on in the final episode. The Shakespearean classic has been adapted into a musical and features garish elements such as vagina-shaped headdresses and an overload of phallic symbolism. It is certainly an exercise in the absurd, and viewers might find it difficult to believe a musical with so much gyrating and ass-smacking would ever make it to a high school stage. However, if you can suspend your disbelief, it’s undeniably a spectacle.
If you’re uncomfortable with anything you’ve just read, skip “Sex Education,” because we’ve barely scratched the surface. But if you like shows that take the emotional turmoil and awkwardness of our teenage years and turn them into something both hilarious and heart-warming, start your binge-watching session this weekend. And remember, kids–always use protection.