Over the past few years Netflix has risen from a simple streaming service to a major production company in its own right, and it’s now producing some of the most talked about releases in film and TV. One of its most recent TV offerings is the British High School Comedy Sex Education. Starring Gillian Anderson, Asa Butterfield, and Emma Mackey, alongside a fantastic supporting cast, Sex Education is eight episodes of surreal hilarity.
The show certainly isn’t shy when it comes to its subject matter, but what’s probably more jarring than the explicit content and frequent nudity, is the Americanisms and nostalgia. In an attempt to capture the essence of the beloved John Hughes teen movies that were so popular in the 1980’s, Sex Education has bizarrely fused throwback fashions with iPhone’s, and varsity sports with Sixth Form College. It is definitely strange at first, but a few episodes in it becomes somewhat charming and gives Sex Education a timeless feel.
The show, as the title might suggest, is all about sex and relationships. It follows the story of Otis (Asa Butterfield) and Maeve (Emma Mackey) as they decide to start a sex clinic for their fellow students. Maeve handles the business end of things, using the clinic to help pay rent at the trailer park where she lives, whilst Otis- the son of a sex therapist (Gillian Anderson) - handles the therapy. The show does a fantastic job of exploring the sexual expectations and frustrations of adolescents, in a way that isn’t patronizing or heteronormative. It breaks down all of the barriers unapologetically, and includes probably one of the best onscreen portrayals of a friendship between a straight guy- Otis- and his gay best friend Eric (Ncuti Gatwa).
The show is unapologetic about dealing with LGBT issues in a way that is both subtle and yet very on the nose. There are several openly gay characters, as well as one closeted character still coming to terms with his sexuality. The show primarily focuses on Eric’s journey with his parents, his friends, and the entire school, and Gatwa absolutely steals the show with a performance that is both loud and sensitive. Touching on everything from hate crime to religion, and how Eric’s relationships are affected over the course of the show, Sex Education gives its viewers a well-rounded gay character who isn’t bound by stereotypes of misconceptions.
And it’s not just LGBT issues that the show tackles head on; everything from revenge porn and slut shaming, to virginity and masturbation is tackled over the course of the series. The supporting cast are part of what really brings the show together. Adam Groff (Connor Swindells) and Jackson Marchetti (Kedar Williams-Stirling) are two very different, but relatable characters, who deal with sensitive issues surrounding teenage relationships with parental figures and expectation, whilst Aimee Gibbs (Aimee Lou Wood) is simultaneously hilarious and honest, having one of the most engaging character arcs of the series.
Gillian Anderson is simply sublime, playing Otis’ overbearing and intrusive mother. Not only does Anderson perfectly capture the challenges of being a single mother to a teenage boy, she is also able to show off her comedic prowess, following Otis to a house party just to drop off his inhaler and frequently asking him overtly sexual questions. Her character explores many of the same issues that the teenage cast face, but from a more mature and experienced angle. Her storyline is every bit as raw and delicate as the main casts.
Maeve and Otis are of course the stars of the show, and it is impossible to become invested in their unlikely friendship turned crush. I won’t spoil anything, but nothing in this show is what I expected and it was an emotional rollercoaster to binge watch. It is a show that is simultaneously fantastical and real, with a voice that I can honestly say I have never experienced in TV or Film before now. Like the John Hughes films that inspired the series, I honestly believe that Sex Education has the potential to be a defining work of teenage comedy for many years to come.