‘Sex Education’ expertly tackles the questions we’re too shy to ask

Most of us would expect a series titled Sex Education to either be a crude comedy or an insightful documentary with no in-between. The new British comedy-drama does live up to this expectation, but surpasses it by combining these two elements into a sincere and heartfelt series.  

The premise follows the relationship between awkward teenage boy Otis Milburn (Asa Butterfield), and his outgoing sex therapist mother (Gillian Anderson).

Otis is grossed out by the thought of anything sexual, which makes for the base tension of the story that catapults him to set up an underground sex clinic with intelligent outcast Maeve (Emma Mackey) and some help from best friend Eric (Ncuti Gatwa). The set-up may seem far from reality, but this actually delivers very relatable experiences that both teens and adults could see themselves in or learn from.

 

This is not cookie cutter sex education with a generalized curriculum that you can apply  to everyone, and it provides ample discourse for audiences to discuss.

 

The sex clinic drives our main characters to explore a diverse range of sexual situations, including performance anxiety, figuring out your sexuality and preferences, body image issues, slut-shaming, and even abortion. They are all too common, yet not talked about enough. As our characters go through these issues, we get to see concrete suggestions on how to deal with them. The show never feels imposing, only offering different solutions, living by its thesis that one size does not fit all. This is not cookie cutter sex education with a generalized curriculum that you can apply  to everyone, and it provides ample discourse for audiences to discuss.

Since Otis struggles with the physicalities of sex, he delves deeper into the psyches of his schoolmates and the emotional aspects of their relationships. Maeve describes him as “some sort of strange sex savant,” but this probably applies to the directors and writers of the show as well. Such an insightful look into the complexities of sex can only be achieved through fleshed out characters. On the surface,  it seems that everyone is a stereotype, but their backgrounds are explored to reveal the nuances and motives behind their actions. By the end of the series, you can see that everyone, including the minor characters, have grown at least a bit.

With quite the character study, the show is a bit of a modern Breakfast Club. This vibe is heightened by the production design inspired by American high schools coupled with all the kids dressing up like they were from the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s. According to the series creator, Laurie Nunn, this was a deliberate creative choice to provide a bit more universality, nostalgia, and aesthetic appeal to Netflix audiences.

Now it may seem like the show leans more towards drama, but I promise that it’s loaded with a lot of raunchy jokes to balance the act, and of course has some typical gags you would expect from a show about sex. But if anything, these jokes are able to remind us about how human we all are, and how much of a human act sex is.

Sex Education makes you learn and laugh at the same time. After all, who said education had to be boring? The direction, acting (watch out for Emma Mackey and Ncuti Gatwa, by the way, who will undeniably come up on this year’s roster of breakout stars), visually stunning shots and production design, and feel-good music all come together to deliver a refreshing series.

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