After the Stranger Things-free 2018, Netflix were after a new huge smash hit that appealed to it’s young audience, and then arrived the brilliant Sex Education over a year ago. Much like Stranger Things, the show gained a word-of-mouth success, and soon became a hit with viewers – so much so that when Netflix announced it’s most viewed Netflix Original TV shows of all time, it ranked very high at number 5.
The first season of the show starred Asa Butterfield as six former, Otis Milburn (played by Asa Butterfield), whose mother, Jean (Gillian Anderson) is a sex therapist, and he begins to run a sex clinic at school to help with various queries for all the teenagers, with the help of his best friend, Eric Effiong (Ncuti Gatwa) and the weird loner, Maeve Wiley (Emma Mackey). This season focuses on the Otis’s relationship with Ola (Patricia Allison), as well as his leftover feelings for Maeve, who in turn deals with breaking up with Jackson (Kedar Williams-Stirling) and her own feelings for Otis. Meanwhile, this season continues to flesh out various supporting characters, including Jean, Eric, Jackson, Ola, and other six-formers.
Continuing on from the break-out success of the first season could be very nerve-wracking, but this second season feels just as confident as ever, starting off with a crazy montage of the now sexually-awakened Otis masturbating continuously in a variety inappropriate locations (like in a school assembly and in the car while his mother is shopping, for instance). And, what’s really great about the show (among many things), is that it always discusses sex is a very honest and open way. Sometimes, teen dramas can think that they are being very ground-breaking in their approach to sex, but actually just come across as preachy and melodramatic. However, Sex Education never feels like that – it always feels open, honest and actually, quite ground-breaking in it’s own way.
The film also discusses a variety of issues and themes, a lot more and different from the previous season. In one of the most heartbreaking story-lines from the show, we see the lively and bubbly character, Aimee Gibbs (Aimee Lou Wood) being sexually assaulted on the bus. The story-line is remarkable in how real it feels – at first, Aimee is in denial and thinks it is nothing (she’s more concerned about the stain on her jeans), but then it really starts to affect her – she can’t go on the bus, and can’t really go anywhere without seeing her assaulter. It is extremely hard-hitting seeing the really bright and warm-hearted character turn into a shell of her former self, affecting her relationships with her friends and boyfriend. This story-line was really the show at it’s wonderful and hard-hitting best.
This season also continues on the conversation of various characters’ sexuality, including the show’s gay and bisexual characters and this time also covering asexuality and pan-sexuality. The central friendship between Eric and Otis is notable for being a positive representation of a friendship between a straight guy and a gay guy that is still very pleasant, entertaining and actually, quite unusual.
Also, although, the show is a teen drama and primarily focuses on teenagers, the show also includes some interesting older characters, especially that of Gillian Anderson’s Jean, and though her, we see what it’s like for an older woman in her 50’s to begin romance and go through heart-break.
The show also effectively fleshes out a variety of the show’s supporting characters, especially the ones who were a bit boring or flat-out unlikable in the first season. The best example of the former is the development of Adam Groff (played by Connor Swindells), the former high school bully, who last season, bullied the openly gay Eric, before going on to kiss him. After being expelled from school and an unsuccessful stint at military camp, he returns and through a lovely unexpected friendship with Ola, and standing up for himself against his father, he evolves from a one-note, and very unlikable character into a really charming one. It’s also really lovely to see Swindells get to show his comedic abilities and timing.
In addition, the show also fleshes out Jackson in a very interesting way. The character was at the forefront last season with his turbulent relationship with Maeve being heavily featured. Last season, however, he always felt quite uninteresting and dull. However, this season, as we see him being pushed to the edge from stress of his swimming career, and deliberately physically injure himself, the character starts to become very interesting. Through a tutoring, and eventual friendship with straight A student, Viv (Chinenye Ezeudu) and a deep dive into his mental health issues, he involves from the stereotypical jock character into a more complex and interesting character. In the style of obvious influence, John Hughes, the shows makes a point of giving us stereotypical teen characters (like the jock, the bully, the weird loner girl, the awkward guy), but then subverting those stereotypes, to create really interesting characters.
The performances from all the characters also remain really great and charismatic. The former child actor, Butterfield continues to impress, with his really wonderful awkward comedic timing, while still giving him some depth. Anderson is great as she leads the older cast members, and virtually everyone else is impressive, including, Swindells, Gatwa, Mackey and Williams-Stirling. Wood also rises to the challenge of performing her sexual assault storyline, and doing so brilliantly.
The downsides of the season is that the will-they-won’t-they relationship between Otis and Maeve continues, and this becomes a little contrived and tiresome at times, particularly towards the end. Also, it’s a shame that this season dropped certain interesting story-lines, including Eric’s complex relationship with his father, and Jackson and Maeve’s relationship.
However, Sex Education remains one of the funniest, wittiest and best Netflix Original TV shows, and probably, the best teenage/ coming of age TV drama around at the moment.
Roll on for season 3.