Netflix’s latest teen-targeted bombshell is Sex Education, starring Asa Butterfield, Gillian Anderson, Emma Mackey, and Ncuti Gatwa among others. The show centers around a present day English High School, where puberty and sexual awakenings abound while awareness and respect less so. Otis Milburn (Butterfield) is a sexually suppressed teenage boy, an awkward situation with a prying sex therapist mother (Anderson). When an unlikely string of events brings out his ability to manage other people’s sex problems, Maeve Wiley, an outwardly unfriendly girl at the same school, sees the opportunity to capitalize on the articulate talents of this odd boy to start an underground sex therapy clinic in the school. The show is a Netflix original, and was released in early 2019 to strong popularity.
I was so pleasantly surprised by this show. A friend of mine recommended it to me offhand one day, so I looked into it and was not all that keen. It looked, from the outside, like a British Riverdale or something: a crappy, shallow teen drama. Oh how wrong I was. Sex Education is a surprisingly complex, thoroughly engaging, and unpretentiously thoughtful show. The very first point to note is the unabashed sex. The intensely unapologetic, graphic, and shameless sex. I found it incredibly admirable how open they are about sex stuff in this show. There’s no messing around with innuendo or anything, as the very first scene of the show ought to tell you. The sexual discussions the show has, which are literally the forefront of the show’s premise, are completely uncensored and realistically raw. It’s a shocking thing to dispose so indifferently of a taboo that really no longer belongs, and the comfort with which they talk about stuff most people don’t feel comfortable talking about is, frankly, a social service.
But the show is not, in any way a shallow sexcapade. Brimming with deeply interesting characters and equally interesting relationships dynamics, Sex Education keeps you constantly interested in life at Moordale High School. The show is about exploring young people’s problems, the real ones for their depth and the shallow ones for their shallowness, and that conceptual starting point makes for some exploration into characters you thought were as cookie-cutter as it gets. When, halfway through, you start committing to Jackson’s character, who really has no business being something other than stock, it won’t even be shocking to you because of the authenticity of it all. None of the characters are without depth, and some of the main characters are borne of some fine quality storyboarding. Asa Butterfield shows again his ability to make a character relatable with a show-stopping performance. His performance might be the most noteworthy, but the potency of the conflict of the show has to be credited to most all of the cast and supporting cast, who do shocking justice to roles that are pointedly distinct and worth your attention as an audience. For an audience of our age especially, you see a lot of yourself in the things you see on screen, even things you didn’t think it was okay to talk about.
It’s worth considering the reality that the above paragraph is only applicable for Gen Z and some late millennials, which might be true but far from necessarily bad. It would be great if adults could watch this show and perceive more accurately the emotions of their children, but far more important, I think, is the impact the show can have on a teenager’s perception of themselves. The show is very realistic, but the little sprinklings of cheese that they’ve snuck in are hopeful and affirming to the extent that it makes you forget about the equally represented perils the show talks about.
The relationships discussed, and those not, are a main feature of the show the whole way through. It tackles group-ism, parent-child relationships, and romantic relationships sensitively and deftly. Some of the relationship parallels between character groups are worth watching the show for alone. I should say that all of this is done within measure, it’s not an incredible show, but it’s definitely an above average one and a real shock for me seeing as I was wary of a Riverdale complex going into it. The depth of the conversations and the character development is real, and that legitimately shocked me. Homosexuality is openly shown, unique sexual habits are openly shown, and the reasons, which you won’t have heard said out loud before, are openly shown in all their absurdity and power. Even the smaller conversations they have, that aren’t part of the main idea of the show such as forgiveness, suicide, and more are dealt with better than most shows deal with their premises; a triumph for the writing team.
I have to reiterate my incredible surprise at the quality and content of this show. It was not at all what it seemed. Re-reading this review, it strikes me that my enthusiasm for a story I just finished slightly overplays the good qualities of the show. There are plot-holes, which I won’t go into for fear of spoilers, and the writing, while exceptional in certain places, is average otherwise. It’s definitely above average, and defied all expectations on my part, so credit goes to the production team and cast for a show that was very different from others in its genre. Maybe the rest of the genre will decide to take notes?
– Aman Datta
Aman’s Score – 81/100 Aryamaan’s Score – 82/100