I’m a little disappointed in myself for not jumping on the Sex Education train far sooner, but Seasons 1 and 2 of the show were exactly what I needed right now. Sex Education manages to achieve the best of both worlds; it’s a highly entertaining and often delightful binge watch that’s so good that the real world just melts away, but it’s also shockingly relatable and might wind up being a newfound source of hope to apply to real-world relationships.
Just in case this one passed you by, Sex Education is a Netflix dramedy series that features a downright incredible ensemble led by Asa Butterfield as Otis Milburn, a teenager who isn’t really the most popular guy at school. Making Otis’ day-to-day even more awkward, his mother Jean (Gillian Anderson) is a sex therapist who has absolutely no inhibitions when it comes to talking about sex or indulging in a steady stream of one-night stands. However, Otis finds that his mom’s skillset comes in handy when he teams up with the super scary school outcast, Maeve Wiley (Emma Mackey), to start a sex clinic. Maeve handles the business side of things and Otis dishes out sex advice to his peers in exchange for cold, hard cash.
I hope that sets the scene well enough but please know that that brief description doesn’t even scratch the surface of what you’re getting into with Sex Education. What makes the Netflix series so special is that it truly has something to offer everyone. If you’re judging the show by its poster and premise alone, you might assume it’s a show that will only appeal to young adults; not true. You almost might suspect that it’s all about sex, sex, sex and more sex; again, not true. No matter your race, gender, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation or age, Sex Education will likely make a huge impression.
First off, for those who might be in it for the sex, that’s definitely there. Frequent masterbation, fetishes, dirty talk, a variety of forms of experimentation – you name it, Sex Education probably has it. And the series rarely holds back when it comes to showing such acts. No, it doesn’t cross the line of its maturity rating by getting unnecessarily graphic, but it does make a point to lean into the grounded awkwardness one might experience when going into new sexual territory. Sex Education also rocks a playful tone with these scenes, successfully suggesting that there’s no reason to feel ashamed if you’ve found yourself in a similar predicament.
The show also doesn’t hold back when it comes to tackling weighty topics either. There’s an especially powerful episode about abortion early on in Season 1 that absolutely blew me away with how it took the time to make the experience so deeply personal for a number of characters, whether it’s someone who’s going through the procedure or the one who’ll be there to walk them home after. There’s also a sexual assault storyline in Season 2 that’s completely different from anything I’ve ever seen on screen before. Rather than limit that particular plot point to a select few episodes, it reverberates from Episode 3 on, taking the time to show the possible stages of experiencing such trauma and how one can come to terms with it. Sex Education excels in more ways than I can count, but these two particular storylines are some of the show’s crowning achievements.
Sex Education also often explores the effect outside assumptions can have on one’s self-worth. This impacts almost every single character on the show, but my favorite arc of the bunch in this respect belongs to Ncuti Gatwa as Eric, Otis’ best friend. Gatwa is a ray of light as Eric. His laugh, energy and affection towards Otis are downright infectious, making it all the more upsetting whenever Eric runs into trouble, particularly his experience in Episode 5 of Season 1. At the start of Sex Education, Eric has an air of confidence to him, but then he runs straight into the harsh reminder that outside forces can completely upend one’s self-worth. For Eric, regaining that confidence is key to him finally trusting his gut.
And for anyone out there assuming Sex Education is only for young adult viewers, think again! After watching just one episode of Sex Education, I texted the friend who recommended the series and told them, “Gillian Anderson is everything in this role!” Fifteen episodes later, I still stand by that statement. Anderson brings such a unique sense of life and a hypnotic cadence to the character that you just can’t take your eyes off of her. Somewhat similar to Eric, Jean seems to have it all at the beginning of the show; she’s successful, has a civil relationship with her teenaged son, and also seems quite pleased with her sex life which consists of one one-night-stand after the next. The problems creep in when certain changes challenge the confidence she has in her lifestyle and routine. Where does she need to draw the line between her work and her son? And does she really value her independence over a long-term relationship?
This leads up into one of the most mind-blowing parts of Sex Education – the unforgettable supporting characters. Before I dare dive into a lengthy role call, let’s side step from Jean to Maureen Groff (Samantha Spiro), a character who doesn’t get the spotlight much at all until the second half of Season 2. Without revealing the specifics of Maureen’s situation, she finds herself in a position where she must assert her own self-worth and does so in a way that takes something quite devastating and promises that there’s light at the end of the tunnel, while also suggesting that that light might lead her to a brighter place than where she was before.
Another Season 2 addition who excels big time is Chinenye Ezeudu as Viv, a super smart member of the school’s quiz team who winds up tutoring Kedar Williams-Stirling’s character, star swimmer Jackson. You may think there’s no hope for a meaningful connection to be had with someone in a completely different social circle at school, but sometimes that outside perspective is just the nudge you need to reveal a better path than the one you were on before. The same could be said for the effect a certain someone has on Tanya Reynolds’ character Lily, a colorful and lovable one-of-a-kind anomaly.
There’s also Connor Swindells as Adam, Aimee Lou Wood as Aimee, Patricia Allison as Ola, Rakhee Thakrar as Ms. Sands, and so many more standout characters I wish I could tell you about in detail right now. But, in an effort to keep this a completely spoiler-free pitch, I’ll just tell you that I’m quite confident that it doesn’t matter what you’re going through right now. Sex Eduction boasts such a wide variety of characters and situations, and approaches them all with such heart, sincerity and creativity that something is bound to ring true or touch you in some sense. (And it’ll all entertain you, too!) Series creator Laurie Nunn no doubt has a gem here and it’s one that could prove to be a major binge-watch bright spot in the middle of our current situation.